Jarvis stretched himself as luxuriously as he could in the cramped general quarters of the Ares.
“Air you can breathe!” he exulted. “It feels as thick as soup after the thin stuff out there!” He nodded at the Martian landscape stretching flat and desolate in the light of the nearer moon, beyond the glass of the port.
The other three stared at him sympathetically—Putz, the engineer, Leroy, the biologist, and Harrison, the astronomer and captain of the expedition. Dick Jarvis was chemist of the famous crew, the Ares expedition, first human beings to set foot on the mysterious neighbor of the earth, the planet Mars. This, of course, was in the old days, less than twenty years after the mad American Doheny perfected the atomic blast at the cost of his life, and only a decade after the equally mad Cardoza rode on it to the moon. They were true pioneers, these four of the Ares. Except for a half-dozen moon expeditions and the ill-fated de Lancey flight aimed at the seductive orb of Venus, they were the first men to feel other gravity than earth’s, and certainly the first successful crew to leave the earth-moon system. And they deserved that success when one considers the difficulties and discomforts—the months spent in acclimatization chambers back on earth, learning to breathe the air as tenuous as that of Mars, the challenging of the void in the tiny rocket driven by the cranky reaction motors of the twenty-first century, and mostly the facing of an absolutely unknown world.
Jarvis stretched and fingered the raw and peeling tip of his frostbitten nose. He sighed again contentedly.
“Well,” exploded Harrison abruptly, “are we going to hear what happened? You set out all shipshape in an auxiliary rocket, we don’t get a peep for ten days, and finally Putz here picks you out of a lunatic ant-heap with a freak ostrich as your pal! Spill it, man!”
“Speel?” queried Leroy perplexedly. “Speel what?”
“He means ‘spiel,’ ” explained Putz soberly. “It iss to tell.”
Jarvis met Harrison’s amused glance without the shadow of a smile. “That’s right, Karl,” he said in grave agreement with Putz. “Ich spiel es!” He grunted comfortably and began.
“According to orders,” he said, “I watched Karl here take off toward the North, and then I got into my flying sweatbox and headed South. You’ll remember, Cap—we had orders not to land, but just scout about for points of interest. I set the two cameras clicking and buzzed along, riding pretty high—about two thousand feet—for a couple of reasons. First, it gave the cameras a greater field, and second, the under-jets travel so far in this half-vacuum they call air here that they stir up dust if you move low.”
“We know all that from Putz,” grunted Harrison. “I wish you’d saved the films, though. They’d have paid the cost of this junket; remember how the public mobbed the first moon pictures?”
“The films are safe,” retorted Jarvis. “Well,” he resumed, “as I said, I buzzed along at a pretty good clip; just as we figured, the wings haven’t much lift in this air at less than a hundred miles per hour, and even then I had to use the under-jets.
“So, with the speed and the altitude and the blurring caused by the under-jets, the seeing wasn’t any too good. I could see enough, though, to distinguish that what I sailed over was just more of this grey plain that we’d been examining the whole week since our landing—same blobby growths and the same eternal carpet of crawling little plant-animals, or biopods, as Leroy calls them. So I sailed along, calling back my position every hour as instructed, and not knowing whether you heard me.”
“I did!” snapped Harrison.
“A hundred and fifty miles south,” continued Jarvis imperturbably, “the surface changed to a sort of low plateau, nothing but desert and orange-tinted sand. I figured that we were right in our guess, then, and this grey plain we dropped on was really the Mare Cimmerium which would make my orange desert the region called Xanthus. If I were right, I ought to hit another grey plain, the Mare Chronium in another couple of hundred miles, and then another orange desert, Thyle I or II. And so I did.”
“Putz verified our position a week and a half ago!” grumbled the captain. “Let’s get to the point.”
“Coming!” remarked Jarvis. “Twenty miles into Thyle—believe it or not—I crossed a canal!”
“Putz photographed a hundred! Let’s hear something new!”
“And did he also see a city?”
“Twenty of ’em, if you call those heaps of mud cities!”
“Well,” observed Jarvis, “from here on I’ll be telling a few things Putz didn’t see!” He rubbed his tingling nose, and continued. “I knew that I had sixteen hours of daylight at this season, so eight hours—eight hundred miles—from here, I decided to turn back. I was still over Thyle, whether I or II I’m not sure, not more than twenty-five miles into it. And right there, Putz’s pet motor quit!”
“Quit? How?” Putz was solicitous.
“The atomic blast got weak. I started losing altitude right away, and suddenly there I was with a thump right in the middle of Thyle! Smashed my nose on the window, too!” He rubbed the injured member ruefully.
“Did you maybe try vashing der combustion chamber mit acid sulphuric?” inquired Putz. “Sometimes der lead giffs a secondary radiation—”
“Naw!” said Jarvis disgustedly. “I wouldn’t try that, of course—not more than ten times! Besides, the bump flattened the landing gear and busted off the under-jets. Suppose I got the thing working—what then? Ten miles with the blast coming right out of the bottom and I’d have melted the floor from under me!” He rubbed his nose again. “Lucky for me a pound only weighs seven ounces here, or I’d have been mashed flat!”
“I could have fixed!” ejaculated the engineer. “I bet it vas not serious.”
“Probably not,” agreed Jarvis sarcastically. “Only it wouldn’t fly. Nothing serious, but I had my choice of waiting to be picked up or trying to walk back—eight hundred miles, and perhaps twenty days before we had to leave! Forty miles a day! Well,” he concluded, “I chose to walk. Just as much chance of being picked up, and it kept me busy.”
“We’d have found you,” said Harrison.
“No doubt. Anyway, I rigged up a harness from some seat straps, and put the water tank on my back, took a cartridge belt and revolver, and some iron rations, and started out.”
“Water tank!” exclaimed the little biologist, Leroy. “She weigh one-quarter ton!”
“Wasn’t full. Weighed about two hundred and fifty pounds earth-weight, which is eighty-five here. Then, besides, my own personal two hundred and ten pounds is only seventy on Mars, so, tank and all, I grossed a hundred and fifty-five, or fifty-five pounds less than my everyday earth-weight. I figured on that when I undertook the forty-mile daily stroll. Oh—of course I took a thermo-skin sleeping bag for these wintry Martian nights.
“Off I went, bouncing along pretty quickly. Eight hours of daylight meant twenty miles or more. It got tiresome, of course—plugging along over a soft sand desert with nothing to see, not even Leroy’s crawling biopods. But an hour or so brought me to the canal—just a dry ditch about four hundred feet wide, and straight as a railroad on its own company map.
“There’d been water in it sometime, though. The ditch was covered with what looked like a nice green lawn. Only, as I approached, the lawn moved out of my way!”
“Eh?” said Leroy.
“Yeah, it was a relative of your biopods. I caught one—a little grass-like blade about as long as my finger, with two thin, stemmy legs.”
“He is where?” Leroy was eager.
“He is let go! I had to move, so I plowed along with the walking grass opening in front and closing behind. And then I was out on the orange desert of Thyle again.
“I plugged steadily along, cussing the sand that made going so tiresome, and, incidentally, cussing that cranky motor of yours, Karl. It was just before twilight that I reached the edge of Thyle, and looked down over the gray Mare Chronium. And I knew there was seventy-five miles of that to be walked over, and then a couple of hundred miles of that Xanthus desert, and about as much more Mare Cimmerium. Was I pleased? I started cussing you fellows for not picking me up!”
“We were trying, you sap!” said Harrison.
“That didn’t help. Well, I figured I might as well use what was left of daylight in getting down the cliff that bounded Thyle. I found an easy place, and down I went. Mare Chronium was just the same sort of place as this—crazy leafless plants and a bunch of crawlers; I gave it a glance and hauled out my sleeping bag. Up to that time, you know, I hadn’t seen anything worth worrying about on this half-dead world—nothing dangerous, that is.”
“Did you?” queried Harrison.
“Did I! You’ll hear about it when I come to it. Well, I was just about to turn in when suddenly I heard the wildest sort of shenanigans!”
“Vot iss shenanigans?” inquired Putz.
“He says, ‘Je ne sais quoi,’ ” explained Leroy. “It is to say, ‘I don’t know what.’ ”
“That’s right,” agreed Jarvis. “I didn’t know what, so I sneaked over to find out. There was a racket like a flock of crows eating a bunch of canaries—whistles, cackles, caws, trills, and what have you. I rounded a clump of stumps, and there was Tweel!”
“Tweel?” said Harrison, and “Tveel?” said Leroy and Putz.
“That freak ostrich,” explained the narrator. “At least, Tweel is as near as I can pronounce it without sputtering. He called it something like ‘Trrrweerrlll.’ ”
“What was he doing?” asked the Captain.
“He was being eaten! And squealing, of course, as anyone would.”
“Eaten! By what?”
“I found out later. All I could see then was a bunch of black ropy arms tangled around what looked like, as Putz described it to you, an ostrich. I wasn’t going to interfere, naturally; if both creatures were dangerous, I’d have one less to worry about.
“But the birdlike thing was putting up a good battle, dealing vicious blows with an eighteen-inch beak, between screeches. And besides, I caught a glimpse or two of what was on the end of those arms!” Jarvis shuddered. “But the clincher was when I noticed a little black bag or case hung about the neck of the bird-thing! It was intelligent! That or tame, I assumed. Anyway, it clinched my decision. I pulled out my automatic and fired into what I could see of its antagonist.
“There was a flurry of tentacles and a spurt of black corruption, and then the thing, with a disgusting sucking noise, pulled itself and its arms into a hole in the ground. The other let out a series of clacks, staggered around on legs about as thick as golf sticks, and turned suddenly to face me. I held my weapon ready, and the two of us stared at each other.
“The Martian wasn’t a bird, really. It wasn’t even birdlike, except just at first glance. It had a beak all right, and a few feathery appendages, but the beak wasn’t really a beak. It was somewhat flexible; I could see the tip bend slowly from side to side; it was almost like a cross between a beak and a trunk. It had four-toed feet, and four fingered things—hands, you’d have to call them, and a little roundish body, and a long neck ending in a tiny head—and that beak. It stood an inch or so taller than I, and—well, Putz saw it!”
The engineer nodded. “Ja! I saw!”
Jarvis continued. “So—we stared at each other. Finally the creature went into a series of clackings and twitterings and held out its hands toward me, empty. I took that as a gesture of friendship.”
“Perhaps,” suggested Harrison, “it looked at that nose of yours and thought you were its brother!”
“Huh! You can be funny without talking! Anyway, I put up my gun and said ‘Aw, don’t mention it,’ or something of the sort, and the thing came over and we were pals.
“By that time, the sun was pretty low and I knew that I’d better build a fire or get into my thermo-skin. I decided on the fire. I picked a spot at the base of the Thyle cliff, where the rock could reflect a little heat on my back. I started breaking off chunks of this desiccated Martian vegetation, and my companion caught the idea and brought in an armful. I reached for a match, but the Martian fished into his pouch and brought out something that looked like a glowing coal; one touch of it, and the fire was blazing—and you all know what a job we have starting a fire in this atmosphere!
“And that bag of his!” continued the narrator. “That was a manufactured article, my friends; press an end and she popped open—press the middle and she sealed so perfectly you couldn’t see the line. Better than zippers.
“Well, we stared at the fire a while and I decided to attempt some sort of communication with the Martian. I pointed at myself and said ‘Dick’; he caught the drift immediately, stretched a bony claw at me and repeated ‘Tick.’ Then I pointed at him, and he gave that whistle I called Tweel; I can’t imitate his accent. Things were going smoothly; to emphasize the names, I repeated ‘Dick,’ and then, pointing at him, ‘Tweel.’
“There we stuck! He gave some clacks that sounded negative, and said something like ‘P-p-p-proot.’ And that was just the beginning; I was always ‘Tick,’ but as for him—part of the time he was ‘Tweel,’ and part of the time he was ‘P-p-p-proot,’ and part of the time he was sixteen other noises!
“We just couldn’t connect. I tried ‘rock,’ and I tried ‘star,’ and ‘tree,’ and ‘fire,’ and Lord knows what else, and try as I would, I couldn’t get a single word! Nothing was the same for two successive minutes, and if that’s a language, I’m an alchemist! Finally I gave it up and called him Tweel, and that seemed to do.
“But Tweel hung on to some of my words. He remembered a couple of them, which I suppose is a great achievement if you’re used to a language you have to make up as you go along. But I couldn’t get the hang of his talk; either I missed some subtle point or we just didn’t think alike—and I rather believe the latter view.
“I’ve other reasons for believing that. After a while I gave up the language business, and tried mathematics. I scratched two plus two equals four on the ground, and demonstrated it with pebbles. Again Tweel caught the idea, and informed me that three plus three equals six. Once more we seemed to be getting somewhere.
“So, knowing that Tweel had at least a grammar school education, I drew a circle for the sun, pointing first at it, and then at the last glow of the sun. Then I sketched in Mercury, and Venus, and Mother Earth, and Mars, and finally, pointing to Mars, I swept my hand around in a sort of inclusive gesture to indicate that Mars was our current environment. I was working up to putting over the idea that my home was on the earth.
“Tweel understood my diagram all right. He poked his beak at it, and with a great deal of trilling and clucking, he added Deimos and Phobos to Mars, and then sketched in the earth’s moon!
“Do you see what that proves? It proves that Tweel’s race uses telescopes—that they’re civilized!”
“Does not!” snapped Harrison. “The moon is visible from here as a fifth magnitude star. They could see its revolution with the naked eye.”
“The moon, yes!” said Jarvis. “You’ve missed my point. Mercury isn’t visible! And Tweel knew of Mercury because he placed the Moon at the third planet, not the second. If he didn’t know Mercury, he’d put the earth second, and Mars third, instead of fourth! See?”
“Humph!” said Harrison.
“Anyway,” proceeded Jarvis, “I went on with my lesson. Things were going smoothly, and it looked as if I could put the idea over. I pointed at the earth on my diagram, and then at myself, and then, to clinch it, I pointed to myself and then to the earth itself shining bright green almost at the zenith.
“Tweel set up such an excited clacking that I was certain he understood. He jumped up and down, and suddenly he pointed at himself and then at the sky, and then at himself and at the sky again. He pointed at his middle and then at Arcturus, at his head and then at Spica, at his feet and then at half a dozen stars, while I just gaped at him. Then, all of a sudden, he gave a tremendous leap. Man, what a hop! He shot straight up into the starlight, seventy-five feet if an inch! I saw him silhouetted against the sky, saw him turn and come down at me head first, and land smack on his beak like a javelin! There he stuck square in the center of my sun-circle in the sand—a bull’s eye!”
“Nuts!” observed the captain. “Plain nuts!”
“That’s what I thought, too! I just stared at him open-mouthed while he pulled his head out of the sand and stood up. Then I figured he’d missed my point, and I went through the whole blamed rigamarole again, and it ended the same way, with Tweel on his nose in the middle of my picture!”
“Maybe it’s a religious rite,” suggested Harrison.
“Maybe,” said Jarvis dubiously. “Well, there we were. We could exchange ideas up to a certain point, and then—blooey! Something in us was different, unrelated; I don’t doubt that Tweel thought me just as screwy as I thought him. Our minds simply looked at the world from different viewpoints, and perhaps his viewpoint is as true as ours. But—we couldn’t get together, that’s all. Yet, in spite of all difficulties, I liked Tweel, and I have a queer certainty that he liked me.”
“Nuts!” repeated the captain. “Just daffy!”
“Yeah? Wait and see. A couple of times I’ve thought that perhaps we—” He paused, and then resumed his narrative. “Anyway, I finally gave it up, and got into my thermo-skin to sleep. The fire hadn’t kept me any too warm, but that damned sleeping bag did. Got stuffy five minutes after I closed myself in. I opened it a little and bingo! Some eighty-below-zero air hit my nose, and that’s when I got this pleasant little frostbite to add to the bump I acquired during the crash of my rocket.
“I don’t know what Tweel made of my sleeping. He sat around, but when I woke up, he was gone. I’d just crawled out of my bag, though, when I heard some twittering, and there he came, sailing down from that three-story Thyle cliff to alight on his beak beside me. I pointed to myself and toward the north, and he pointed at himself and toward the south, but when I loaded up and started away, he came along.
“Man, how he traveled! A hundred and fifty feet at a jump, sailing through the air stretched out like a spear, and landing on his beak. He seemed surprised at my plodding, but after a few moments he fell in beside me, only every few minutes he’d go into one of his leaps, and stick his nose into the sand a block ahead of me. Then he’d come shooting back at me; it made me nervous at first to see that beak of his coming at me like a spear, but he always ended in the sand at my side.
“So the two of us plugged along across the Mare Chronium. Same sort of place as this—same crazy plants and same little green biopods growing in the sand, or crawling out of your way. We talked—not that we understood each other, you know, but just for company. I sang songs, and I suspect Tweel did too; at least, some of his trillings and twitterings had a subtle sort of rhythm.
“Then, for variety, Tweel would display his smattering of English words. He’d point to an outcropping and say ‘rock,’ and point to a pebble and say it again; or he’d touch my arm and say ‘Tick,’ and then repeat it. He seemed terrifically amused that the same word meant the same thing twice in succession, or that the same word could apply to two different objects. It set me wondering if perhaps his language wasn’t like the primitive speech of some earth people—you know, Captain, like the Negritoes, for instance, who haven’t any generic words. No word for food or water or man—words for good food and bad food, or rain water and sea water, or strong man and weak man—but no names for general classes. They’re too primitive to understand that rain water and sea water are just different aspects of the same thing. But that wasn’t the case with Tweel; it was just that we were somehow mysteriously different—our minds were alien to each other. And yet—we liked each other!”
“Looney, that’s all,” remarked Harrison. “That’s why you two were so fond of each other.”
“Well, I like you!” countered Jarvis wickedly. “Anyway,” he resumed, “don’t get the idea that there was anything screwy about Tweel. In fact, I’m not so sure but that he couldn’t teach our highly praised human intelligence a trick or two. Oh, he wasn’t an intellectual superman, I guess; but don’t overlook the point that he managed to understand a little of my mental workings, and I never even got a glimmering of his.”
“Because he didn’t have any!” suggested the captain, while Putz and Leroy blinked attentively.
“You can judge of that when I’m through,” said Jarvis. “Well, we plugged along across the Mare Chronium all that day, and all the next. Mare Chronium—Sea of Time! Say, I was willing to agree with Schiaparelli’s name by the end of that march! Just that grey, endless plain of weird plants, and never a sign of any other life. It was so monotonous that I was even glad to see the desert of Xanthus toward the evening of the second day.
“I was fair worn out, but Tweel seemed as fresh as ever, for all I never saw him drink or eat. I think he could have crossed the Mare Chronium in a couple of hours with those block-long nose dives of his, but he stuck along with me. I offered him some water once or twice; he took the cup from me and sucked the liquid into his beak, and then carefully squirted it all back into the cup and gravely returned it.
“Just as we sighted Xanthus, or the cliffs that bounded it, one of those nasty sand clouds blew along, not as bad as the one we had here, but mean to travel against. I pulled the transparent flap of my thermo-skin bag across my face and managed pretty well, and I noticed that Tweel used some feathery appendages growing like a mustache at the base of his beak to cover his nostrils, and some similar fuzz to shield his eyes.”
“He is a desert creature!” ejaculated the little biologist, Leroy.
“He drink no water—he is adapt for sand storm—”
“Proves nothing! There’s not enough water to waste any where on this desiccated pill called Mars. We’d call all of it desert on earth, you know.” He paused. “Anyway, after the sand storm blew over, a little wind kept blowing in our faces, not strong enough to stir the sand. But suddenly things came drifting along from the Xanthus cliffs—small, transparent spheres, for all the world like glass tennis balls! But light—they were almost light enough to float even in this thin air—empty, too; at least, I cracked open a couple and nothing came out but a bad smell. I asked Tweel about them, but all he said was ‘No, no, no,’ which I took to mean that he knew nothing about them. So they went bouncing by like tumbleweeds, or like soap bubbles, and we plugged on toward Xanthus. Tweel pointed at one of the crystal balls once and said ‘rock,’ but I was too tired to argue with him. Later I discovered what he meant.
“We came to the bottom of the Xanthus cliffs finally, when there wasn’t much daylight left. I decided to sleep on the plateau if possible; anything dangerous, I reasoned, would be more likely to prowl through the vegetation of the Mare Chronium than the sand of Xanthus. Not that I’d seen a single sign of menace, except the rope-armed black thing that had trapped Tweel, and apparently that didn’t prowl at all, but lured its victims within reach. It couldn’t lure me while I slept, especially as Tweel didn’t seem to sleep at all, but simply sat patiently around all night. I wondered how the creature had managed to trap Tweel, but there wasn’t any way of asking him. I found that out too, later; it’s devilish!
“However, we were ambling around the base of the Xanthus barrier looking for an easy spot to climb. At least, I was. Tweel could have leaped it easily, for the cliffs were lower than Thyle—perhaps sixty feet. I found a place and started up, swearing at the water tank strapped to my back—it didn’t bother me except when climbing—and suddenly I heard a sound that I thought I recognized!
“You know how deceptive sounds are in this thin air. A shot sounds like the pop of a cork. But this sound was the drone of a rocket, and sure enough, there went our second auxiliary about ten miles to westward, between me and the sunset!”
“Vas me!” said Putz. “I hunt for you.”
“Yeah; I knew that, but what good did it do me? I hung on to the cliff and yelled and waved with one hand. Tweel saw it too, and set up a trilling and twittering, leaping to the top of the barrier and then high into the air. And while I watched, the machine droned on into the shadows to the south.
“I scrambled to the top of the cliff. Tweel was still pointing and trilling excitedly, shooting up toward the sky and coming down head-on to stick upside down on his beak in the sand. I pointed toward the south and at myself, and he said, ‘Yes—Yes—Yes’; but somehow I gathered that he thought the flying thing was a relative of mine, probably a parent. Perhaps I did his intellect an injustice; I think now that I did.
“I was bitterly disappointed by the failure to attract attention. I pulled out my thermo-skin bag and crawled into it, as the night chill was already apparent. Tweel stuck his beak into the sand and drew up his legs and arms and looked for all the world like one of those leafless shrubs out there. I think he stayed that way all night.”
“Protective mimicry!” ejaculated Leroy. “See? He is desert creature!”
“In the morning,” resumed Jarvis, “we started off again. We hadn’t gone a hundred yards into Xanthus when I saw something queer! This is one thing Putz didn’t photograph, I’ll wager!
“There was a line of little pyramids—tiny ones, not more than six inches high, stretching across Xanthus as far as I could see! Little buildings made of pygmy bricks, they were, hollow inside and truncated, or at least broken at the top and empty. I pointed at them and said ‘What?’ to Tweel, but he gave some negative twitters to indicate, I suppose, that he didn’t know. So off we went, following the row of pyramids because they ran north, and I was going north.
“Man, we trailed that line for hours! After a while, I noticed another queer thing: they were getting larger. Same number of bricks in each one, but the bricks were larger.
“By noon they were shoulder high. I looked into a couple—all just the same, broken at the top and empty. I examined a brick or two as well; they were silica, and old as creation itself!”
“How you know?” asked Leroy.
“They were weathered—edges rounded. Silica doesn’t weather easily even on earth, and in this climate—!”
“How old you think?”
“Fifty thousand—a hundred thousand years. How can I tell? The little ones we saw in the morning were older—perhaps ten times as old. Crumbling. How old would that make them? Half a million years? Who knows?” Jarvis paused a moment. “Well,” he resumed, “we followed the line. Tweel pointed at them and said ‘rock’ once or twice, but he’d done that many times before. Besides, he was more or less right about these.
“I tried questioning him. I pointed at a pyramid and asked ‘People?’ and indicated the two of us. He set up a negative sort of clucking and said, ‘No, no, no. No one-one-two. No two-two-four,’ meanwhile rubbing his stomach. I just stared at him and he went through the business again. ‘No one-one-two. No two-two-four.’ I just gaped at him.”
“That proves it!” exclaimed Harrison. “Nuts!”
“You think so?” queried Jarvis sardonically. “Well, I figured it out different! ‘No one-one-two!’ You don’t get it, of course, do you?”
“Nope—nor do you!”
“I think I do! Tweel was using the few English words he knew to put over a very complex idea. What, let me ask, does mathematics make you think of?”
“Why—of astronomy. Or—or logic!”
“That’s it! ‘No one-one-two!’ Tweel was telling me that the builders of the pyramids weren’t people—or that they weren’t intelligent, that they weren’t reasoning creatures! Get it?”
“Huh! I’ll be damned!”
“You probably will.”
“Why,” put in Leroy, “he rub his belly?”
“Why? Because, my dear biologist, that’s where his brains are! Not in his tiny head—in his middle!”
“Not on Mars, it isn’t! This flora and fauna aren’t earthly; your biopods prove that!” Jarvis grinned and took up his narrative. “Anyway, we plugged along across Xanthus and in about the middle of the afternoon, something else queer happened. The pyramids ended.”
“Yeah; the queer part was that the last one—and now they were ten-footers—was capped! See? Whatever built it was still inside; we’d trailed ’em from their half-million-year-old origin to the present.
“Tweel and I noticed it about the same time. I yanked out my automatic (I had a clip of Boland explosive bullets in it) and Tweel, quick as a sleight-of-hand trick, snapped a queer little glass revolver out of his bag. It was much like our weapons, except that the grip was larger to accommodate his four-taloned hand. And we held our weapons ready while we sneaked up along the lines of empty pyramids.
“Tweel saw the movement first. The top tiers of bricks were heaving, shaking, and suddenly slid down the sides with a thin crash. And then—something—something was coming out!
“A long, silvery-grey arm appeared, dragging after it an armored body. Armored, I mean, with scales, silver-grey and dull-shining. The arm heaved the body out of the hole; the beast crashed to the sand.
“It was a nondescript creature—body like a big grey cask, arm and a sort of mouth-hole at one end; stiff, pointed tail at the other—and that’s all. No other limbs, no eyes, ears, nose—nothing! The thing dragged itself a few yards, inserted its pointed tail in the sand, pushed itself upright, and just sat.
“Tweel and I watched it for ten minutes before it moved. Then, with a creaking and rustling like—oh, like crumpling stiff paper—its arm moved to the mouth-hole and out came a brick! The arm placed the brick carefully on the ground, and the thing was still again.
“Another ten minutes—another brick. Just one of Nature’s bricklayers. I was about to slip away and move on when Tweel pointed at the thing and said ‘rock’! I went ‘huh?’ and he said it again. Then, to the accompaniment of some of his trilling, he said, ‘No—no—,’ and gave two or three whistling breaths.
“Well, I got his meaning, for a wonder! I said, ‘No breath?’ and demonstrated the word. Tweel was ecstatic; he said, ‘Yes, yes, yes! No, no, no breet!’ Then he gave a leap and sailed out to land on his nose about one pace from the monster!
“I was startled, you can imagine! The arm was going up for a brick, and I expected to see Tweel caught and mangled, but—nothing happened! Tweel pounded on the creature, and the arm took the brick and placed it neatly beside the first. Tweel rapped on its body again, and said ‘rock,’ and I got up nerve enough to take a look myself.
“Tweel was right again. The creature was rock, and it didn’t breathe!”
“How you know?” snapped Leroy, his black eyes blazing interest.
“Because I’m a chemist. The beast was made of silica! There must have been pure silicon in the sand, and it lived on that. Get it? We, and Tweel, and those plants out there, and even the biopods are carbon life; this thing lived by a different set of chemical reactions. It was silicon life!”
“La vie silicieuse!” shouted Leroy. “I have suspect, and now it is proof! I must go see! Il faut que je—”
“All right! All right!” said Jarvis. “You can go see. Anyhow, there the thing was, alive and yet not alive, moving every ten minutes, and then only to remove a brick. Those bricks were its waste matter. See, Frenchy? We’re carbon, and our waste is carbon dioxide, and this thing is silicon, and its waste is silicon dioxide—silica. But silica is a solid, hence the bricks. And it builds itself in, and when it is covered, it moves over to a fresh place to start over. No wonder it creaked! A living creature half a million years old!”
“How you know how old?” Leroy was frantic.
“We trailed its pyramids from the beginning, didn’t we? If this weren’t the original pyramid builder, the series would have ended somewhere before we found him, wouldn’t it?—ended and started over with the small ones. That’s simple enough, isn’t it?
“But he reproduces, or tries to. Before the third brick came out, there was a little rustle and out popped a whole stream of those little crystal balls. They’re his spores, or eggs, or seeds—call ’em what you want. They went bouncing by across Xanthus just as they’d bounced by us back in the Mare Chronium. I’ve a hunch how they work, too—this is for your information, Leroy. I think the crystal shell of silica is no more than a protective covering, like an eggshell, and that the active principle is the smell inside. It’s some sort of gas that attacks silicon, and if the shell is broken near a supply of that element, some reaction starts that ultimately develops into a beast like that one.”
“You should try!” exclaimed the little Frenchman. “We must break one to see!”
“Yeah? Well, I did. I smashed a couple against the sand. Would you like to come back in about ten thousand years to see if I planted some pyramid monsters? You’d most likely be able to tell by that time!” Jarvis paused and drew a deep breath. “Lord! That queer creature! Do you picture it? Blind, deaf, nerveless, brainless—just a mechanism, and yet—immortal! Bound to go on making bricks, building pyramids, as long as silicon and oxygen exist, and even afterwards it’ll just stop. It won’t be dead. If the accidents of a million years bring it its food again, there it’ll be, ready to run again, while brains and civilizations are part of the past. A queer beast—yet I met a stranger one!”
“If you did, it must have been in your dreams!” growled Harrison.
“You’re right!” said Jarvis soberly. “In a way, you’re right. The dream-beast! That’s the best name for it—and it’s the most fiendish, terrifying creation one could imagine! More dangerous than a lion, more insidious than a snake!”
“Tell me!” begged Leroy. “I must go see!”
“Not this devil!” He paused again. “Well,” he resumed, “Tweel and I left the pyramid creature and plowed along through Xanthus. I was tired and a little disheartened by Putz’s failure to pick me up, and Tweel’s trilling got on my nerves, as did his flying nosedives. So I just strode along without a word, hour after hour across that monotonous desert.
“Toward mid-afternoon we came in sight of a low dark line on the horizon. I knew what it was. It was a canal; I’d crossed it in the rocket and it meant that we were just one-third of the way across Xanthus. Pleasant thought, wasn’t it? And still, I was keeping up to schedule.
“We approached the canal slowly; I remembered that this one was bordered by a wide fringe of vegetation and that Mud-heap City was on it.
“I was tired, as I said. I kept thinking of a good hot meal, and then from that I jumped to reflections of how nice and homelike even Borneo would seem after this crazy planet, and from that, to thoughts of little old New York, and then to thinking about a girl I know there—Fancy Long. Know her?”
“Vision entertainer,” said Harrison. “I’ve tuned her in. Nice blonde—dances and sings on the Yerba Mate Hour.”
“That’s her,” said Jarvis ungrammatically. “I know her pretty well—just friends, get me?—though she came down to see us off in the Ares. Well, I was thinking about her, feeling pretty lonesome, and all the time we were approaching that line of rubbery plants.
“And then—I said, ‘What ’n Hell!’ and stared. And there she was—Fancy Long, standing plain as day under one of those crackbrained trees, and smiling and waving just the way I remembered her when we left!”
“Now you’re nuts, too!” observed the captain.
“Boy, I almost agreed with you! I stared and pinched myself and closed my eyes and then stared again—and every time, there was Fancy Long smiling and waving! Tweel saw something, too; he was trilling and clucking away, but I scarcely heard him. I was bounding toward her over the sand, too amazed even to ask myself questions.
“I wasn’t twenty feet from her when Tweel caught me with one of his flying leaps. He grabbed my arm, yelling, ‘No—no—no!’ in his squeaky voice. I tried to shake him off—he was as light as if he were built of bamboo—but he dug his claws in and yelled. And finally some sort of sanity returned to me and I stopped less than ten feet from her. There she stood, looking as solid as Putz’s head!”
“Vot?” said the engineer.
“She smiled and waved, and waved and smiled, and I stood there dumb as Leroy, while Tweel squeaked and chattered. I knew it couldn’t be real, yet—there she was!
“Finally I said, ‘Fancy! Fancy Long!’ She just kept on smiling and waving, but looking as real as if I hadn’t left her thirty-seven million miles away.
“Tweel had his glass pistol out, pointing it at her. I grabbed his arm, but he tried to push me away. He pointed at her and said, ‘No breet! No breet!’ and I understood that he meant that the Fancy Long thing wasn’t alive. Man, my head was whirling!
“Still, it gave me the jitters to see him pointing his weapon at her. I don’t know why I stood there watching him take careful aim, but I did. Then he squeezed the handle of his weapon; there was a little puff of steam, and Fancy Long was gone! And in her place was one of those writhing, black, rope-armed horrors like the one I’d saved Tweel from!
“The dream-beast! I stood there dizzy, watching it die while Tweel trilled and whistled. Finally he touched my arm, pointed at the twisting thing, and said, ‘You one-one-two, he one-one-two.’ After he’d repeated it eight or ten times, I got it. Do any of you?”
“Oui!” shrilled Leroy. “Moi—je le comprends! He mean you think of something, the beast he know, and you see it! Un chien—a hungry dog, he would see the big bone with meat! Or smell it—not?”
“Right!” said Jarvis. “The dream-beast uses its victim’s longings and desires to trap its prey. The bird at nesting season would see its mate, the fox, prowling for its own prey, would see a helpless rabbit!”
“How he do?” queried Leroy.
“How do I know? How does a snake back on earth charm a bird into its very jaws? And aren’t there deep-sea fish that lure their victims into their mouths? Lord!” Jarvis shuddered. “Do you see how insidious the monster is? We’re warned now—but henceforth we can’t trust even our eyes. You might see me—I might see one of you—and back of it may be nothing but another of those black horrors!”
“How’d your friend know?” asked the captain abruptly.
“Tweel? I wonder! Perhaps he was thinking of something that couldn’t possibly have interested me, and when I started to run, he realized that I saw something different and was warned. Or perhaps the dream-beast can only project a single vision, and Tweel saw what I saw—or nothing. I couldn’t ask him. But it’s just another proof that his intelligence is equal to ours or greater.”
“He’s daffy, I tell you!” said Harrison. “What makes you think his intellect ranks with the human?”
“Plenty of things! First, the pyramid-beast. He hadn’t seen one before; he said as much. Yet he recognized it as a dead-alive automaton of silicon.”
“He could have heard of it,” objected Harrison. “He lives around here, you know.”
“Well how about the language? I couldn’t pick up a single idea of his and he learned six or seven words of mine. And do you realize what complex ideas he put over with no more than those six or seven words? The pyramid-monster—the dream-beast! In a single phrase he told me that one was a harmless automaton and the other a deadly hypnotist. What about that?”
“Huh!” said the captain.
“Huh if you wish! Could you have done it knowing only six words of English? Could you go even further, as Tweel did, and tell me that another creature was of a sort of intelligence so different from ours that understanding was impossible—even more impossible than that between Tweel and me?”
“Eh? What was that?”
“Later. The point I’m making is that Tweel and his race are worthy of our friendship. Somewhere on Mars—and you’ll find I’m right—is a civilization and culture equal to ours, and maybe more than equal. And communication is possible between them and us; Tweel proves that. It may take years of patient trial, for their minds are alien, but less alien than the next minds we encountered—if they are minds.”
“The next ones? What next ones?”
“The people of the mud cities along the canals.” Jarvis frowned, then resumed his narrative. “I thought the dream-beast and the silicon-monster were the strangest beings conceivable, but I was wrong. These creatures are still more alien, less understandable than either and far less comprehensible than Tweel, with whom friendship is possible, and even, by patience and concentration, the exchange of ideas.
“Well,” he continued, “we left the dream-beast dying, dragging itself back into its hole, and we moved toward the canal. There was a carpet of that queer walking-grass scampering out of our way, and when we reached the bank, there was a yellow trickle of water flowing. The mound city I’d noticed from the rocket was a mile or so to the right and I was curious enough to want to take a look at it.
“It had seemed deserted from my previous glimpse of it, and if any creatures were lurking in it—well, Tweel and I were both armed. And by the way, that crystal weapon of Tweel’s was an interesting device; I took a look at it after the dream-beast episode. It fired a little glass splinter, poisoned, I suppose, and I guess it held at least a hundred of ’em to a load. The propellent was steam—just plain steam!”
“Shteam!” echoed Putz. “From vot come, shteam?”
“From water, of course! You could see the water through the transparent handle and about a gill of another liquid, thick and yellowish. When Tweel squeezed the handle—there was no trigger—a drop of water and a drop of the yellow stuff squirted into the firing chamber, and the water vaporized—pop!—like that. It’s not so difficult; I think we could develop the same principle. Concentrated sulphuric acid will heat water almost to boiling, and so will quicklime, and there’s potassium and sodium—
“Of course, his weapon hadn’t the range of mine, but it wasn’t so bad in this thin air, and it did hold as many shots as a cowboy’s gun in a Western movie. It was effective, too, at least against Martian life; I tried it out, aiming at one of the crazy plants, and darned if the plant didn’t wither up and fall apart! That’s why I think the glass splinters were poisoned.
“Anyway, we trudged along toward the mud-heap city and I began to wonder whether the city builders dug the canals. I pointed to the city and then at the canal, and Tweel said ‘No—no—no!’ and gestured toward the south. I took it to mean that some other race had created the canal system, perhaps Tweel’s people. I don’t know; maybe there’s still another intelligent race on the planet, or a dozen others. Mars is a queer little world.
“A hundred yards from the city we crossed a sort of road—just a hard-packed mud trail, and then, all of a sudden, along came one of the mound builders!
“Man, talk about fantastic beings! It looked rather like a barrel trotting along on four legs with four other arms or tentacles. It had no head, just body and members and a row of eyes completely around it. The top end of the barrel-body was a diaphragm stretched as tight as a drum head, and that was all. It was pushing a little coppery cart and tore right past us like the proverbial bat out of Hell. It didn’t even notice us, although I thought the eyes on my side shifted a little as it passed.
“A moment later another came along, pushing another empty cart. Same thing—it just scooted past us. Well, I wasn’t going to be ignored by a bunch of barrels playing train, so when the third one approached, I planted myself in the way—ready to jump, of course, if the thing didn’t stop.
“But it did. It stopped and set up a sort of drumming from the diaphragm on top. And I held out both hands and said, ‘We are friends!’ And what do you suppose the thing did?”
“Said, ‘Pleased to meet you,’ I’ll bet!” suggested Harrison.
“I couldn’t have been more surprised if it had! It drummed on its diaphragm, and then suddenly boomed out, ‘We are v-r-r-riends!’ and gave its pushcart a vicious poke at me! I jumped aside, and away it went while I stared dumbly after it.
“A minute later another one came hurrying along. This one didn’t pause, but simply drummed out, ‘We are v-r-r-riends!’ and scurried by. How did it learn the phrase? Were all of the creatures in some sort of communication with each other? Were they all parts of some central organism? I don’t know, though I think Tweel does.
“Anyway, the creatures went sailing past us, every one greeting us with the same statement. It got to be funny; I never thought to find so many friends on this Godforsaken ball! Finally I made a puzzled gesture to Tweel; I guess he understood, for he said, ‘One-one-two—yes!—two-two-four—no!’ Get it?”
“Sure,” said Harrison, “It’s a Martian nursery rhyme.”
“Yeah! Well, I was getting used to Tweel’s symbolism, and I figured it out this way. ‘One-one-two—yes!’ The creatures were intelligent. ‘Two-two-four—no!’ Their intelligence was not of our order, but something different and beyond the logic of two and two is four. Maybe I missed his meaning. Perhaps he meant that their minds were of low degree, able to figure out the simple things—‘One-one-two—yes!’—but not more difficult things—‘Two-two-four—no!’ But I think from what we saw later that he meant the other.
“After a few moments, the creatures came rushing back—first one, then another. Their pushcarts were full of stones, sand, chunks of rubbery plants, and such rubbish as that. They droned out their friendly greeting, which didn’t really sound so friendly, and dashed on. The third one I assumed to be my first acquaintance and I decided to have another chat with him. I stepped into his path again and waited.
“Up he came, booming out his ‘We are v-r-r-riends’ and stopped. I looked at him; four or five of his eyes looked at me. He tried his password again and gave a shove on his cart, but I stood firm. And then the—the dashed creature reached out one of his arms, and two finger-like nippers tweaked my nose!”
“Haw!” roared Harrison. “Maybe the things have a sense of beauty!”
“Laugh!” grumbled Jarvis. “I’d already had a nasty bump and a mean frostbite on that nose. Anyway, I yelled ‘Ouch!’ and jumped aside and the creature dashed away; but from then on, their greeting was ‘We are v-r-r-riends! Ouch!’ Queer beasts!
“Tweel and I followed the road squarely up to the nearest mound. The creatures were coming and going, paying us not the slightest attention, fetching their loads of rubbish. The road simply dived into an opening, and slanted down like an old mine, and in and out darted the barrel-people, greeting us with their eternal phrase.
“I looked in; there was a light somewhere below, and I was curious to see it. It didn’t look like a flame or torch, you understand, but more like a civilized light, and I thought that I might get some clue as to the creatures’ development. So in I went and Tweel tagged along, not without a few trills and twitters, however.
“The light was curious; it sputtered and flared like an old arc light, but came from a single black rod set in the wall of the corridor. It was electric, beyond doubt. The creatures were fairly civilized, apparently.
“Then I saw another light shining on something that glittered and I went on to look at that, but it was only a heap of shiny sand. I turned toward the entrance to leave, and the Devil take me if it wasn’t gone!
“I suppose the corridor had curved, or I’d stepped into a side passage. Anyway, I walked back in that direction I thought we’d come, and all I saw was more dim-lit corridor. The place was a labyrinth! There was nothing but twisting passages running every way, lit by occasional lights, and now and then a creature running by, sometimes with a pushcart, sometimes without.
“Well, I wasn’t much worried at first. Tweel and I had only come a few steps from the entrance. But every move we made after that seemed to get us in deeper. Finally I tried following one of the creatures with an empty cart, thinking that he’d be going out for his rubbish, but he ran around aimlessly, into one passage and out another. When he started dashing around a pillar like one of these Japanese waltzing mice, I gave up, dumped my water tank on the floor, and sat down.
“Tweel was as lost as I. I pointed up and he said ‘No—no—no!’ in a sort of helpless trill. And we couldn’t get any help from the natives. They paid no attention at all, except to assure us they were friends—ouch!
“Lord! I don’t know how many hours or days we wandered around there! I slept twice from sheer exhaustion; Tweel never seemed to need sleep. We tried following only the upward corridors, but they’d run uphill a ways and then curve downwards. The temperature in that damned ant hill was constant; you couldn’t tell night from day and after my first sleep I didn’t know whether I’d slept one hour or thirteen, so I couldn’t tell from my watch whether it was midnight or noon.
“We saw plenty of strange things. There were machines running in some of the corridors, but they didn’t seem to be doing anything—just wheels turning. And several times I saw two barrel-beasts with a little one growing between them, joined to both.”
“Parthenogenesis!” exulted Leroy. “Parthenogenesis by budding like les tulipes!”
“If you say so, Frenchy,” agreed Jarvis. “The things never noticed us at all, except, as I say, to greet us with ‘We are v-r-r-riends! Ouch!’ They seemed to have no home-life of any sort, but just scurried around with their pushcarts, bringing in rubbish. And finally I discovered what they did with it.
“We’d had a little luck with a corridor, one that slanted upwards for a great distance. I was feeling that we ought to be close to the surface when suddenly the passage debouched into a domed chamber, the only one we’d seen. And man!—I felt like dancing when I saw what looked like daylight through a crevice in the roof.
“There was a—a sort of machine in the chamber, just an enormous wheel that turned slowly, and one of the creatures was in the act of dumping his rubbish below it. The wheel ground it with a crunch—sand, stones, plants, all into powder that sifted away somewhere. While we watched, others filed in, repeating the process, and that seemed to be all. No rhyme nor reason to the whole thing—but that’s characteristic of this crazy planet. And there was another fact that’s almost too bizarre to believe.
“One of the creatures, having dumped his load, pushed his cart aside with a crash and calmly shoved himself under the wheel! I watched him being crushed, too stupefied to make a sound, and a moment later, another followed him! They were perfectly methodical about it, too; one of the cartless creatures took the abandoned pushcart.
“Tweel didn’t seem surprised; I pointed out the next suicide to him, and he just gave the most human-like shrug imaginable, as much as to say, ‘What can I do about it?’ He must have known more or less about these creatures.
“Then I saw something else. There was something beyond the wheel, something shining on a sort of low pedestal. I walked over; there was a little crystal about the size of an egg, fluorescing to beat Tophet. The light from it stung my hands and face, almost like a static discharge, and then I noticed another funny thing. Remember that wart I had on my left thumb? Look!” Jarvis extended his hand. “It dried up and fell off—just like that! And my abused nose—say, the pain went out of it like magic! The thing had the property of hard X-rays or gamma radiations, only more so; it destroyed diseased tissue and left healthy tissue unharmed!
“I was thinking what a present that’d be to take back to Mother Earth when a lot of racket interrupted. We dashed back to the other side of the wheel in time to see one of the pushcarts ground up. Some suicide had been careless, it seems.
“Then suddenly the creatures were booming and drumming all around us and their noise was decidedly menacing. A crowd of them advanced toward us; we backed out of what I thought was the passage we’d entered by, and they came rumbling after us, some pushing carts and some not. Crazy brutes! There was a whole chorus of ‘We are v-r-r-riends! Ouch!’ I didn’t like the ‘ouch’; it was rather suggestive.
“Tweel had his glass gun out and I dumped my water tank for greater freedom and got mine. We backed up the corridor with the barrel-beasts following—about twenty of them. Queer thing—the ones coming in with loaded carts moved past us inches away without a sign.
“Tweel must have noticed that. Suddenly, he snatched out that glowing coal cigar-lighter of his and touched a cartload of plant limbs. Puff! The whole load was burning—and the crazy beast pushing it went right along without a change of pace! It created some disturbance among our ‘V-r-r-riends,’ however—and then I noticed the smoke eddying and swirling past us, and sure enough, there was the entrance!
“I grabbed Tweel and out we dashed and after us our twenty pursuers. The daylight felt like Heaven, though I saw at first glance that the sun was all but set, and that was bad, since I couldn’t live outside my thermo-skin bag in a Martian night—at least, without a fire.
“And things got worse in a hurry. They cornered us in an angle between two mounds, and there we stood. I hadn’t fired nor had Tweel; there wasn’t any use in irritating the brutes. They stopped a little distance away and began their booming about friendship and ouches.
“Then things got still worse! A barrel-brute came out with a pushcart and they all grabbed into it and came out with handfuls of foot-long copper darts—sharp-looking ones—and all of a sudden one sailed past my ear—zing! And it was shoot or die then.
“We were doing pretty well for a while. We picked off the ones next to the pushcart and managed to keep the darts at a minimum, but suddenly there was a thunderous booming of ‘v-r-r-riends’ and ‘ouches,’ and a whole army of ’em came out of their hole.
“Man! We were through and I knew it! Then I realized that Tweel wasn’t. He could have leaped the mound behind us as easily as not. He was staying for me!
“Say, I could have cried if there’d been time! I’d liked Tweel from the first, but whether I’d have had gratitude to do what he was doing—suppose I had saved him from the first dream-beast—he’d done as much for me, hadn’t he? I grabbed his arm, and said ‘Tweel,’ and pointed up, and he understood. He said, ‘No—no—no, Tick!’ and popped away with his glass pistol.
“What could I do? I’d be a goner anyway when the sun set, but I couldn’t explain that to him. I said, ‘Thanks, Tweel. You’re a man!’ and felt that I wasn’t paying him any compliment at all. A man! There are mighty few men who’d do that.
“So I went ‘bang’ with my gun and Tweel went ‘puff’ with his, and the barrels were throwing darts and getting ready to rush us, and booming about being friends. I had given up hope. Then suddenly an angel dropped right down from Heaven in the shape of Putz, with his under-jets blasting the barrels into very small pieces!
“Wow! I let out a yell and dashed for the rocket; Putz opened the door and in I went, laughing and crying and shouting! It was a moment or so before I remembered Tweel; I looked around in time to see him rising in one of his nosedives over the mound and away.
“I had a devil of a job arguing Putz into following! By the time we got the rocket aloft, darkness was down; you know how it comes here—like turning off a light. We sailed out over the desert and put down once or twice. I yelled ‘Tweel!’ and yelled it a hundred times, I guess. We couldn’t find him; he could travel like the wind and all I got—or else I imagined it—was a faint trilling and twittering drifting out of the south. He’d gone, and damn it! I wish—I wish he hadn’t!”
The four men of the Ares were silent—even the sardonic Harrison. At last little Leroy broke the stillness.
“I should like to see,” he murmured.
“Yeah,” said Harrison. “And the wart-cure. Too bad you missed that; it might be the cancer cure they’ve been hunting for a century and a half.”
“Oh, that!” muttered Jarvis gloomily. “That’s what started the fight!” He drew a glistening object from his pocket.
“Here it is.”
Valley of Dreams
Captain Harrison of the Ares expedition turned away from the little telescope in the bow of the rocket. “Two weeks more, at the most,” he remarked. “Mars only retrogrades for seventy days in all, relative to the earth, and we’ve got to be homeward bound during that period, or wait a year and a half for old Mother Earth to go around the sun and catch up with us again. How’d you like to spend a winter here?”
Dick Jarvis, chemist of the party, shivered as he looked up from his notebook. “I’d just as soon spend it in a liquid air tank!” he averred. “These eighty-below zero summer nights are plenty for me.”
“Well,” mused the captain, “the first successful Martian expedition ought to be home long before then.”
“Successful if we get home,” corrected Jarvis. “I don’t trust these cranky rockets—not since the auxiliary dumped me in the middle of Thyle last week. Walking back from a rocket ride is a new sensation to me.”
“Which reminds me,” returned Harrison, “that we’ve got to recover your films. They’re important if we’re to pull this trip out of the red. Remember how the public mobbed the first moon pictures? Our shots ought to pack ’em to the doors. And the broadcast rights, too; we might show a profit for the Academy.”
“What interests me,” countered Jarvis, “is a personal profit. A book, for instance; exploration books are always popular. Martian Deserts—how’s that for a title?”
“Lousy!” grunted the captain. “Sounds like a cookbook for desserts. You’d have to call it ‘Love Life of a Martian,’ or something like that.”
Jarvis chuckled. “Anyway,” he said, “if we once get back home, I’m going to grab what profit there is, and never, never, get any farther from the earth than a good stratosphere plane’ll take me. I’ve learned to appreciate the planet after plowing over this dried-up pill we’re on now.”
“I’ll lay you odds you’ll be back here year after next,” grinned the Captain. “You’ll want to visit your pal—that trick ostrich.”
“Tweel?” The other’s tone sobered. “I wish I hadn’t lost him, at that. He was a good scout. I’d never have survived the dream-beast but for him. And that battle with the pushcart things—I never even had a chance to thank him.”
“A pair of lunatics, you two,” observed Harrison. He squinted through the port at the gray gloom of the Mare Cimmerium. “There comes the sun.” He paused. “Listen, Dick—you and Leroy take the other auxiliary rocket and go out and salvage those films.”
Jarvis stared. “Me and Leroy?” he echoed ungrammatically. “Why not me and Putz? An engineer would have some chance of getting us there and back if the rocket goes bad on us.”
The captain nodded toward the stern, whence issued at that moment a medley of blows and guttural expletives. “Putz is going over the insides of the Ares,” he announced. “He’ll have his hands full until we leave, because I want every bolt inspected. It’s too late for repairs once we cast off.”
“And if Leroy and I crack up? That’s our last auxiliary.”
“Pick up another ostrich and walk back,” suggested Harrison gruffly. Then he smiled. “If you have trouble, we’ll hunt you out in the Ares,” he finished. “Those films are important.” He turned. “Leroy!”
The dapper little biologist appeared, his face questioning.
“You and Jarvis are off to salvage the auxiliary,” the Captain said. “Everything’s ready and you’d better start now. Call back at half-hour intervals; I’ll be listening.”
Leroy’s eyes glistened. “Perhaps we land for specimens—no?” he queried.
“Land if you want to. This golf ball seems safe enough.”
“Except for the dream-beast,” muttered Jarvis with a faint shudder. He frowned suddenly. “Say, as long as we’re going that way, suppose I have a look for Tweel’s home! He must live off there somewhere, and he’s the most important thing we’ve seen on Mars.”
Harrison hesitated. “If I thought you could keep out of trouble,” he muttered. “All right,” he decided. “Have a look. There’s food and water aboard the auxiliary; you can take a couple of days. But keep in touch with me, you saps!”
Jarvis and Leroy went through the airlock out to the grey plain. The thin air, still scarcely warmed by the rising sun, bit flesh and lung like needles, and they gasped with a sense of suffocation. They dropped to a sitting posture, waiting for their bodies, trained by months in acclimatization chambers back on earth, to accommodate themselves to the tenuous air. Leroy’s face, as always, turned a smothered blue, and Jarvis heard his own breath rasping and rattling in his throat. But in five minutes, the discomfort passed; they rose and entered the little auxiliary rocket that rested beside the black hull of the Ares.
The under-jets roared out their fiery atomic blast; dirt and bits of shattered biopods spun away in a cloud as the rocket rose. Harrison watched the projectile trail its flaming way into the south, then turned back to his work.
It was four days before he saw the rocket again. Just at evening, as the sun dropped behind the horizon with the suddenness of a candle falling into the sea, the auxiliary flashed out of the southern heavens, easing gently down on the flaming wings of the under-jets. Jarvis and Leroy emerged, passed through the swiftly gathering dusk, and faced him in the light of the Ares. He surveyed the two; Jarvis was tattered and scratched, but apparently in better condition than Leroy, whose dapperness was completely lost. The little biologist was pale as the nearer moon that glowed outside; one arm was bandaged in thermo-skin and his clothes hung in veritable rags. But it was his eyes that struck Harrison most strangely; to one who lived these many weary days with the diminutive Frenchman, there was something queer about them. They were frightened, plainly enough, and that was odd, since Leroy was no coward or he’d never have been one of the four chosen by the Academy for the first Martian expedition. But the fear in his eyes was more understandable than that other expression, that queer fixity of gaze like one in a trance, or like a person in an ecstasy. “Like a chap who’s seen Heaven and Hell together,” Harrison expressed it to himself. He was yet to discover how right he was.
He assumed a gruffness as the weary pair sat down. “You’re a fine looking couple!” he growled. “I should’ve known better than to let you wander off alone.” He paused. “Is your arm all right, Leroy? Need any treatment?”
Jarvis answered. “It’s all right—just gashed. No danger of infection here, I guess; Leroy says there aren’t any microbes on Mars.”
“Well,” exploded the Captain, “Let’s hear it, then! Your radio reports sounded screwy. ‘Escaped from Paradise!’ Huh!”
“I didn’t want to give details on the radio,” said Jarvis soberly. “You’d have thought we’d gone loony.”
“I think so, anyway.”
“Moi aussi!” muttered Leroy. “I too!”
“Shall I begin at the beginning?” queried the chemist. “Our early reports were pretty nearly complete.” He stared at Putz, who had come in silently, his face and hands blackened with carbon, and seated himself beside Harrison.
“At the beginning,” the Captain decided.
“Well,” began Jarvis, “we got started all right, and flew due south along the meridian of the Ares, same course I’d followed last week. I was getting used to this narrow horizon, so I didn’t feel so much like being cooped under a big bowl, but one does keep overestimating distances. Something four miles away looks eight when you’re used to terrestrial curvature, and that makes you guess its size just four times too large. A little hill looks like a mountain until you’re almost over it.”
“I know that,” grunted Harrison.
“Yes, but Leroy didn’t, and I spent our first couple of hours trying to explain it to him. By the time he understood (if he does yet) we were past Cimmerium and over that Xanthus desert, and then we crossed the canal with the mud city and the barrel-shaped citizens and the place where Tweel had shot the dream-beast. And nothing would do for Pierre here but that we put down so he could practice his biology on the remains. So we did.
“The thing was still there. No sign of decay; couldn’t be, of course, without bacterial forms of life, and Leroy says that Mars is as sterile as an operating table.”
“Comme le coeur d’une fileuse,” corrected the little biologist, who was beginning to regain a trace of his usual energy. “Like an old maid’s heart!”
“However,” resumed Jarvis, “about a hundred of the little grey-green biopods had fastened onto the thing and were growing and branching. Leroy found a stick and knocked ’em off, and each branch broke away and became a biopod crawling around with the others. So he poked around at the creature, while I looked away from it; even dead, that rope-armed devil gave me the creeps. And then came the surprise; the thing was part plant!”
“C’est vrai!” confirmed the biologist. “It’s true!”
“It was a big cousin of the biopods,” continued Jarvis. “Leroy was quite excited; he figures that all Martian life is of that sort—neither plant nor animal. Life here never differentiated, he says; everything has both natures in it, even the barrel-creatures—even Tweel! I think he’s right, especially when I recall how Tweel rested, sticking his beak in the ground and staying that way all night. I never saw him eat or drink, either; perhaps his beak was more in the nature of a root, and he got his nourishment that way.”
“Sounds nutty to me,” observed Harrison.
“Well,” continued Jarvis, “we broke up a few of the other growths and they acted the same way—the pieces crawled around, only much slower than the biopods, and then stuck themselves in the ground. Then Leroy had to catch a sample of the walking grass, and we were ready to leave when a parade of the barrel-creatures rushed by with their pushcarts. They hadn’t forgotten me, either; they all drummed out, ‘We are v-r-r-iends—ouch!’ just as they had before. Leroy wanted to shoot one and cut it up, but I remembered the battle Tweel and I had had with them, and vetoed the idea. But he did hit on a possible explanation as to what they did with all the rubbish they gathered.”
“Made mud-pies, I guess,” grunted the captain.
“More or less,” agreed Jarvis. “They use it for food, Leroy thinks. If they’re part vegetable, you see, that’s what they’d want—soil with organic remains in it to make it fertile. That’s why they ground up sand and biopods and other growths all together. See?”
“Dimly,” countered Harrison. “How about the suicides?”
“Leroy had a hunch there, too. The suicides jump into the grinder when the mixture has too much sand and gravel; they throw themselves in to adjust the proportions.”
“Rats!” said Harrison disgustedly. “Why couldn’t they bring in some extra branches from outside?”
“Because suicide is easier. You’ve got to remember that these creatures can’t be judged by earthly standards; they probably don’t feel pain, and they haven’t got what we’d call individuality. Any intelligence they have is the property of the whole community—like an ant-heap. That’s it! Ants are willing to die for their anthill; so are these creatures.”
“So are men,” observed the captain, “if it comes to that.”
“Yes, but men aren’t exactly eager. It takes some emotion like patriotism to work ’em to the point of dying for their country; these things do it all in the day’s work.” He paused.
“Well, we took some pictures of the dream-beast and the barrel-creatures, and then we started along. We sailed over Xanthus, keeping as close to the meridian of the Ares as we could, and pretty soon we crossed the trail of the pyramid-builder. So we circled back to let Leroy take a look at it, and when we found it, we landed. The thing had completed just two rows of bricks since Tweel and I left it, and there it was, breathing in silicon and breathing out bricks as if it had eternity to do it in—which it has. Leroy wanted to dissect it with a Boland explosive bullet, but I thought that anything that had lived for ten million years was entitled to the respect due old age, so I talked him out of it. He peeped into the hole on top of it and nearly got beaned by the arm coming up with a brick, and then he chipped off a few pieces of it, which didn’t disturb the creature a bit. He found the place I’d chipped, tried to see if there was any sign of healing, and decided he could tell better in two or three thousand years. So we took a few shots of it and sailed on.
“Mid afternoon we located the wreck of my rocket. Not a thing disturbed; we picked up my films and tried to decide what next. I wanted to find Tweel if possible; I figured from the fact of his pointing south that he lived somewhere near Thyle. We plotted our route and judged that the desert we were in now was Thyle II; Thyle I should be east of us. So, on a hunch, we decided to have a look at Thyle I, and away we buzzed.”
“Der motors?” queried Putz, breaking his long silence.
“For a wonder, we had no trouble, Karl. Your blast worked perfectly. So we hummed along, pretty high to get a wider view, I’d say about fifty thousand feet. Thyle II spread out like an orange carpet, and after a while we came to the grey branch of the Mare Chronium that bounded it. That was narrow; we crossed it in half an hour, and there was Thyle I—same orange-hued desert as its mate. We veered south, toward the Mare Australe, and followed the edge of the desert. And toward sunset we spotted it.”
“Shpotted?” echoed Putz. “Vot vas shpotted?”
“The desert was spotted—with buildings! Not one of the mud cities of the canals, although a canal went through it. From the map we figured the canal was a continuation of the one Schiaparelli called Ascanius.
“We were probably too high to be visible to any inhabitants of the city, but also too high for a good look at it, even with the glasses. However, it was nearly sunset, anyway, so we didn’t plan on dropping in. We circled the place; the canal went out into the Mare Australe, and there, glittering in the south, was the melting polar icecap! The canal drained it; we could distinguish the sparkle of water in it. Off to the southeast, just at the edge of the Mare Australe, was a valley—the first irregularity I’d seen on Mars except the cliffs that bounded Xanthus and Thyle II. We flew over the valley—” Jarvis paused suddenly and shuddered; Leroy, whose color had begun to return, seemed to pale. The chemist resumed, “Well, the valley looked all right—then! Just a gray waste, probably full of crawlers like the others.
“We circled back over the city; say, I want to tell you that place was—well, gigantic! It was colossal; at first I thought the size was due to that illusion I spoke of—you know, the nearness of the horizon—but it wasn’t that. We sailed right over it, and you’ve never seen anything like it!
“But the sun dropped out of sight right then. I knew we were pretty far south—latitude 60—but I didn’t know just how much night we’d have.”
Harrison glanced at a Schiaparelli chart. “About 60—eh?” he said. “Close to what corresponds to the Antarctic circle. You’d have about four hours of night at this season. Three months from now you’d have none at all.”
“Three months!” echoed Jarvis, surprised. Then he grinned. “Right! I forget the seasons here are twice as long as ours. Well, we sailed out into the desert about twenty miles, which put the city below the horizon in case we overslept, and there we spent the night.
“You’re right about the length of it. We had about four hours of darkness which left us fairly rested. We ate breakfast, called our location to you, and started over to have a look at the city.
“We sailed toward it from the east and it loomed up ahead of us like a range of mountains. Lord, what a city! Not that New York mightn’t have higher buildings, or Chicago cover more ground, but for sheer mass, those structures were in a class by themselves. Gargantuan!
“There was a queer look about the place, though. You know how a terrestrial city sprawls out, a nimbus of suburbs, a ring of residential sections, factory districts, parks, highways. There was none of that here; the city rose out of the desert as abruptly as a cliff. Only a few little sand mounds marked the division, and then the walls of those gigantic structures.
“The architecture was strange, too. There were lots of devices that are impossible back home, such as setbacks in reverse, so that a building with a small base could spread out as it rose. That would be a valuable trick in New York, where land is almost priceless, but to do it, you’d have to transfer Martian gravitation there!
“Well, since you can’t very well land a rocket in a city street, we put down right next to the canal side of the city, took our small cameras and revolvers, and started for a gap in the wall of masonry. We weren’t ten feet from the rocket when we both saw the explanation for a lot of the queerness.
“The city was in ruin! Abandoned, deserted, dead as Babylon! Or at least, so it looked to us then, with its empty streets which, if they had been paved, were now deep under sand.”
“A ruin, eh?” commented Harrison. “How old?”
“How could we tell?” countered Jarvis. “The next expedition to this golf ball ought to carry an archeologist—and a philologist, too, as we found out later. But it’s a devil of a job to estimate the age of anything here; things weather so slowly that most of the buildings might have been put up yesterday. No rainfall, no earthquakes, no vegetation is here to spread cracks with its roots—nothing. The only aging factors here are the erosion of the wind—and that’s negligible in this atmosphere—and the cracks caused by changing temperature. And one other agent—meteorites. They must crash down occasionally on the city, judging from the thinness of the air, and the fact that we’ve seen four strike ground right here near the Ares.”
“Seven,” corrected the captain. “Three dropped while you were gone.”
“Well, damage by meteorites must be slow, anyway. Big ones would be as rare here as on earth, because big ones get through in spite of the atmosphere, and those buildings could sustain a lot of little ones. My guess at the city’s age—and it may be wrong by a big percentage—would be fifteen thousand years. Even that’s thousands of years older than any human civilization; fifteen thousand years ago was the Late Stone Age in the history of mankind.
“So Leroy and I crept up to those tremendous buildings feeling like pygmies, sort of awestruck, and talking in whispers. I tell you, it was ghostly walking down that dead and deserted street, and every time we passed through a shadow, we shivered, and not just because shadows are cold on Mars. We felt like intruders, as if the great race that had built the place might resent our presence even across a hundred and fifty centuries. The place was as quiet as a grave, but we kept imagining things and peeping down the dark lanes between buildings and looking over our shoulders. Most of the structures were windowless, but when we did see an opening in those vast walls, we couldn’t look away, expecting to see some horror peering out of it.
“Then we passed an edifice with an open arch; the doors were there, but blocked open by sand. I got up nerve enough to take a look inside, and then, of course, we discovered we’d forgotten to take our flashes. But we eased a few feet into the darkness and the passage debouched into a colossal hall. Far above us a little crack let in a pallid ray of daylight, not nearly enough to light the place; I couldn’t even see if the hall rose clear to the distant roof. But I know the place was enormous; I said something to Leroy and a million thin echoes came slipping back to us out of the darkness. And after that, we began to hear other sounds—slithering rustling noises, and whispers, and sounds like suppressed breathing—and something black and silent passed between us and that faraway crevice of light.
“Then we saw three little greenish spots of luminosity in the dusk to our left. We stood staring at them, and suddenly they all shifted at once. Leroy yelled ‘Ce sont des yeux!’ and they were! They were eyes!
“Well, we stood frozen for a moment, while Leroy’s yell reverberated back and forth between the distant walls, and the echoes repeated the words in queer, thin voices. There were mumblings and mutterings and whisperings and sounds like strange soft laughter, and then the three-eyed thing moved again. Then we broke for the door!
“We felt better out in the sunlight; we looked at each other sheepishly, but neither of us suggested another look at the buildings inside—though we did see the place later, and that was queer, too—but you’ll hear about it when I come to it. We just loosened our revolvers and crept on along that ghostly street.
“The street curved and twisted and subdivided. I kept careful note of our directions, since we couldn’t risk getting lost in that gigantic maze. Without our thermo-skin bags, night would finish us, even if what lurked in the ruins didn’t. By and by, I noticed that we were veering back toward the canal, the buildings ended and there were only a few dozen ragged stone huts which looked as though they might have been built of debris from the city. I was just beginning to feel a bit disappointed at finding no trace of Tweel’s people here when we rounded a corner and there he was!
“I yelled ‘Tweel!’ but he just stared, and then I realized that he wasn’t Tweel, but another Martian of his sort. Tweel’s feathery appendages were more orange hued and he stood several inches taller than this one. Leroy was sputtering in excitement, and the Martian kept his vicious beak directed at us, so I stepped forward as peacemaker. I said ‘Tweel?’ very questioningly, but there was no result. I tried it a dozen times, and we finally had to give it up; we couldn’t connect.
“Leroy and I walked toward the huts, and the Martian followed us. Twice he was joined by others, and each time I tried yelling ‘Tweel’ at them but they just stared at us. So we ambled on with the three trailing us, and then it suddenly occurred to me that my Martian accent might be at fault. I faced the group and tried trilling it out the way Tweel himself did: ‘T-r-r-rwee-r-rl!’ Like that.
“And that worked! One of them spun his head around a full ninety degrees, and screeched ‘T-r-r-rweee-r-rl!’ and a moment later, like an arrow from a bow, Tweel came sailing over the nearer huts to land on his beak in front of me!
“Man, we were glad to see each other! Tweel set up a twittering and chirping like a farm in summer and went sailing up and coming down on his beak, and I would have grabbed his hands, only he wouldn’t keep still long enough.
“The other Martians and Leroy just stared, and after a while, Tweel stopped bouncing, and there we were. We couldn’t talk to each other any more than we could before, so after I’d said ‘Tweel’ a couple of times and he’d said ‘Tick,’ we were more or less helpless. However, it was only mid-morning, and it seemed important to learn all we could about Tweel and the city, so I suggested that he guide us around the place if he weren’t busy. I put over the idea by pointing back at the buildings and then at him and us.
“Well, apparently he wasn’t too busy, for he set off with us, leading the way with one of his hundred and fifty-foot nosedives that set Leroy gasping. When we caught up, he said something like ‘one, one, two—two, two, four—no, no—yes, yes—rock—no breet!’ That didn’t seem to mean anything; perhaps he was just letting Leroy know that he could speak English, or perhaps he was merely running over his vocabulary to refresh his memory.
“Anyway, he showed us around. He had a light of sorts in his black pouch, good enough for small rooms, but simply lost in some of the colossal caverns we went through. Nine out of ten buildings meant absolutely nothing to us—just vast empty chambers, full of shadows and rustlings and echoes. I couldn’t imagine their use; they didn’t seem suitable for living quarters, or even for commercial purposes—trade and so forth; they might have been all right as powerhouses, but what could have been the purpose of a whole city full? And where were the remains of the machinery?
“The place was a mystery. Sometimes Tweel would show us through a hall that would have housed an ocean-liner, and he’d seem to swell with pride—and we couldn’t make a damn thing of it! As a display of architectural power, the city was colossal; as anything else it was just nutty!
“But we did see one thing that registered. We came to that same building Leroy and I had entered earlier—the one with the three eyes in it. Well, we were a little shaky about going in there, but Tweel twittered and trilled and kept saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ so we followed him, staring nervously about for the thing that had watched us. However, that hall was just like the others, full of murmurs and slithering noises and shadowy things slipping away into corners. If the three-eyed creature were still there, it must have slunk away with the others.
“Tweel led us along the wall; his light showed a series of little alcoves, and in the first of these we ran into a puzzling thing—a very weird thing. As the light flashed into the alcove, I saw first just an empty space, and then, squatting on the floor, I saw—it! A little creature about as big as a large rat, it was, gray and huddled and evidently startled by our appearance. It had the queerest, most devilish little face!—pointed ears or horns and satanic eyes that seemed to sparkle with a sort of fiendish intelligence.
“Tweel saw it, too, and let out a screech of anger, and the creature rose on two pencil-thin legs and scuttled off with a half-terrified, half defiant squeak. It darted past us into the darkness too quickly even for Tweel, and as it ran, something waved on its body like the fluttering of a cape. Tweel screeched angrily at it and set up a shrill hullabaloo that sounded like genuine rage.
“But the thing was gone, and then I noticed the weirdest of imaginable details. Where it had squatted on the floor was—a book! It had been hunched over a book!
“I took a step forward; sure enough, there was some sort of inscription on the pages—wavy white lines like a seismograph record on black sheets like the material of Tweel’s pouch. Tweel fumed and whistled in wrath, picked up the volume and slammed it into place on a shelf full of others. Leroy and I stared dumbfounded at each other.
“Had the little thing with the fiendish face been reading? Or was it simply eating the pages, getting physical nourishment rather than mental? Or had the whole thing been accidental?
“If the creature were some ratlike pest that destroyed books, Tweel’s rage was understandable, but why should he try to prevent an intelligent being, even though of an alien race, from reading—if it was reading? I don’t know; I did notice that the book was entirely undamaged, nor did I see a damaged book among any that we handled. But I have an odd hunch that if we knew the secret of the little cape-clothed imp, we’d know the mystery of the vast abandoned city and of the decay of Martian culture.
“Well, Tweel quieted down after a while and led us completely around that tremendous hall. It had been a library, I think; at least, there were thousands upon thousands of those queer black-paged volumes printed in wavy lines of white. There were pictures, too, in some; and some of these showed Tweel’s people. That’s a point, of course; it indicated that his race built the city and printed the books. I don’t think the greatest philologist on earth will ever translate one line of those records; they were made by minds too different from ours.
“Tweel could read them, naturally. He twittered off a few lines, and then I took a few of the books, with his permission; he said ‘no, no!’ to some and ‘yes, yes!’ to others. Perhaps he kept back the ones his people needed, or perhaps he let me take the ones he thought we’d understand most easily. I don’t know; the books are outside there in the rocket.
“Then he held that dim torch of his toward the walls, and they were pictured. Lord, what pictures! They stretched up and up into the blackness of the roof, mysterious and gigantic. I couldn’t make much of the first wall; it seemed to be a portrayal of a great assembly of Tweel’s people. Perhaps it was meant to symbolize Society or Government. But the next wall was more obvious; it showed creatures at work on a colossal machine of some sort, and that would be Industry or Science. The back wall had corroded away in part, from what we could see, I suspected the scene was meant to portray Art, but it was on the fourth wall that we got a shock that nearly dazed us.
“I think the symbol was Exploration or Discovery. This wall was a little plainer, because the moving beam of daylight from that crack lit up the higher surface and Tweel’s torch illuminated the lower. We made out a giant seated figure, one of the beaked Martians like Tweel, but with every limb suggesting heaviness, weariness. The arms dropped inertly on the chair, the thin neck bent and the beak rested on the body, as if the creature could scarcely bear its own weight. And before it was a queer kneeling figure, and at sight of it, Leroy and I almost reeled against each other. It was, apparently, a man!”
“A man!” bellowed Harrison. “A man you say?”
“I said apparently,” retorted Jarvis. “The artist had exaggerated the nose almost to the length of Tweel’s beak, but the figure had black shoulder-length hair, and instead of the Martian four, there were five fingers on its outstretched hand! It was kneeling as if in worship of the Martian, and on the ground was what looked like a pottery bowl full of some food as an offering. Well! Leroy and I thought we’d gone screwy!”
“And Putz and I think so, too!” roared the captain.
“Maybe we all have,” replied Jarvis, with a faint grin at the pale face of the little Frenchman, who returned it in silence. “Anyway,” he continued, “Tweel was squeaking and pointing at the figure, and saying ‘Tick! Tick!’ so he recognized the resemblance—and never mind any cracks about my nose!” he warned the captain. “It was Leroy who made the important comment; he looked at the Martian and said ‘Thoth! The god Thoth!’ ”
“Oui!” confirmed the biologist. “Comme l’Egypte!”
“Yeah,” said Jarvis. “Like the Egyptian ibis-headed god—the one with the beak. Well, no sooner did Tweel hear the name Thoth than he set up a clamor of twittering and squeaking. He pointed at himself and said ‘Thoth! Thoth!’ and then waved his arm all around and repeated it. Of course he often did queer things, but we both thought we understood what he meant. He was trying to tell us that his race called themselves Thoth. Do you see what I’m getting at?”
“I see, all right,” said Harrison. “You think the Martians paid a visit to the earth, and the Egyptians remembered it in their mythology. Well, you’re off, then; there wasn’t any Egyptian civilization fifteen thousand years ago.”
“Wrong!” grinned Jarvis. “It’s too bad we haven’t an archeologist with us, but Leroy tells me that there was a stone-age culture in Egypt then, the pre-dynastic civilization.”
“Well, even so, what of it?”
“Plenty! Everything in that picture proves my point. The attitude of the Martian, heavy and weary—that’s the unnatural strain of terrestrial gravitation. The name Thoth; Leroy tells me Thoth was the Egyptian god of philosophy and the inventor of writing! Get that? They must have picked up the idea from watching the Martian take notes. It’s too much for coincidence that Thoth should be beaked and ibis-headed, and that the beaked Martians call themselves Thoth.”
“Well, I’ll be hanged! But what about the nose on the Egyptian? Do you mean to tell me that stone-age Egyptians had longer noses than ordinary men?”
“Of course not! It’s just that the Martians very naturally cast their paintings in Martianized form. Don’t human beings tend to relate everything to themselves? That’s why dugongs and manatees started the mermaid myths—sailors thought they saw human features on the beasts. So the Martian artist, drawing either from descriptions or imperfect photographs, naturally exaggerated the size of the human nose to a degree that looked normal to him. Or anyway, that’s my theory.”
“Well, it’ll do as a theory,” grunted Harrison. “What I want to hear is why you two got back here looking like a couple of year-before-last bird’s nests.”
Jarvis shuddered again, and cast another glance at Leroy. The little biologist was recovering some of his accustomed poise, but he returned the glance with an echo of the chemist’s shudder.
“We’ll get to that,” resumed the latter. “Meanwhile I’ll stick to Tweel and his people. We spent the better part of three days with them, as you know. I can’t give every detail, but I’ll summarize the important facts and give our conclusions, which may not be worth an inflated franc. It’s hard to judge this dried-up world by earthly standards.
“We took pictures of everything possible; I even tried to photograph that gigantic mural in the library, but unless Tweel’s lamp was unusually rich in actinic rays, I don’t suppose it’ll show. And that’s a pity, since it’s undoubtedly the most interesting object we’ve found on Mars, at least from a human viewpoint.
“Tweel was a very courteous host. He took us to all the points of interest—even the new waterworks.”
Putz’s eyes brightened at the word. “Vater-vorks?” he echoed. “For vot?”
“For the canal, naturally. They have to build up a head of water to drive it through; that’s obvious.” He looked at the captain. “You told me yourself that to drive water from the polar caps of Mars to the equator was equivalent to forcing it up a twenty-mile hill, because Mars is flattened at the poles and bulges at the equator just like the earth.”
“That’s true,” agreed Harrison.
“Well,” resumed Jarvis, “this city was one of the relay stations to boost the flow. Their power plant was the only one of the giant buildings that seemed to serve any useful purpose, and that was worth seeing. I wish you’d seen it, Karl; you’ll have to make what you can from our pictures. It’s a sun-power plant!”
Harrison and Putz stared. “Sun-power!” grunted the captain. “That’s primitive!” And the engineer added an emphatic “Ja!” of agreement.
“Not as primitive as all that,” corrected Jarvis. “The sunlight focused on a queer cylinder in the center of a big concave mirror, and they drew an electric current from it. The juice worked the pumps.”
“A t’ermocouple!” ejaculated Putz.
“That sounds reasonable; you can judge by the pictures. But the power-plant had some queer things about it. The queerest was that the machinery was tended, not by Tweel’s people, but by some of the barrel-shaped creatures like the ones in Xanthus!” He gazed around at the faces of his auditors; there was no comment.
“Get it?” he resumed. At their silence, he proceeded, “I see you don’t. Leroy figured it out, but whether rightly or wrongly, I don’t know. He thinks that the barrels and Tweel’s race have a reciprocal arrangement like—well, like bees and flowers on earth. The flowers give honey for the bees; the bees carry the pollen for the flowers. See? The barrels tend the works and Tweel’s people build the canal system. The Xanthus city must have been a boosting station; that explains the mysterious machines I saw. And Leroy believes further that it isn’t an intelligent arrangement—not on the part of the barrels, at least—but that it’s been done for so many thousands of generations that it’s become instinctive—a tropism—just like the actions of ants and bees. The creatures have been bred to it!”
“Nuts!” observed Harrison. “Let’s hear you explain the reason for that big empty city, then.”
“Sure. Tweel’s civilization is decadent, that’s the reason. It’s a dying race, and out of all the millions that must once have lived there, Tweel’s couple of hundred companions are the remnant. They’re an outpost, left to tend the source of the water at the polar cap; probably there are still a few respectable cities left somewhere on the canal system, most likely near the tropics. It’s the last gasp of a race—and a race that reached a higher peak of culture than Man!”
“Huh?” said Harrison. “Then why are they dying? Lack of water?”
“I don’t think so,” responded the chemist. “If my guess at the city’s age is right, fifteen thousand years wouldn’t make enough difference in the water supply—nor a hundred thousand, for that matter. It’s something else, though the water’s doubtless a factor.”
“Das wasser,” cut in Putz. “Vere goes dot?”
“Even a chemist knows that!” scoffed Jarvis. “At least on earth. Here I’m not so sure, but on earth, every time there’s a lightning flash, it electrolyzes some water vapor into hydrogen and oxygen, and then the hydrogen escapes into space, because terrestrial gravitation won’t hold it permanently. And every time there’s an earthquake, some water is lost to the interior. Slow—but damned certain.” He turned to Harrison. “Right, Cap?”
“Right,” conceded the captain. “But here, of course—no earthquakes, no thunderstorms—the loss must be very slow. Then why is the race dying?”
“The sun-power plant answers that,” countered Jarvis. “Lack of fuel! Lack of power! No oil left, no coal left—if Mars ever had a Carboniferous Age—and no waterpower—just the driblets of energy they can get from the sun. That’s why they’re dying.”
“With the limitless energy of the atom?” exploded Harrison.
“They don’t know about atomic energy. Probably never did. Must have used some other principle in their spaceship.”
“Then,” snapped the captain, “what makes you rate their intelligence above the human? We’ve finally cracked open the atom!”
“Sure we have. We had a clue, didn’t we? Radium and uranium. Do you think we’d ever have learned how without those elements? We’d never even have suspected that atomic energy existed!”
“Well? Haven’t they—?”
“No, they haven’t. You’ve told me yourself that Mars has only 73 percent of the earth’s density. Even a chemist can see that that means a lack of heavy metals—no osmium, no uranium, no radium. They didn’t have the clue.”
“Even so, that doesn’t prove they’re more advanced than we are. If they were more advanced, they’d have discovered it anyway.”
“Maybe,” conceded Jarvis. “I’m not claiming that we don’t surpass them in some ways. But in others, they’re far ahead of us.”
“In what, for instance?”
“Well—socially, for one thing.”
“Huh? How do you mean?”
Jarvis glanced in turn at each of the three that faced him. He hesitated. “I wonder how you chaps will take this,” he muttered. “Naturally, everybody likes his own system best.” He frowned. “Look here—on the earth we have three types of society, haven’t we? And there’s a member of each type right here. Putz lives under a dictatorship—an autocracy. Leroy’s a citizen of the Sixth Commune in France. Harrison and I are Americans, members of a democracy. There you are—autocracy, democracy, communism—the three types of terrestrial societies. Tweel’s people have a different system from any of us.”
“Different? What is it?”
“The one no earthly nation has tried. Anarchy!”
“Anarchy!” the captain and Putz burst out together.
“But—” Harrison was sputtering. “What do you mean—they’re ahead of us? Anarchy! Bah!”
“All right—bah!” retorted Jarvis. “I’m not saying it would work for us, or for any race of men. But it works for them.”
“But—anarchy!” The captain was indignant.
“Well, when you come right down to it,” argued Jarvis defensively, “anarchy is the ideal form of government, if it works. Emerson said that the best government was that which governs least, and so did Wendell Phillips, and I think George Washington. And you can’t have any form of government which governs less than anarchy, which is no government at all!”
The captain was sputtering. “But—it’s unnatural! Even savage tribes have their chiefs! Even a pack of wolves has its leader!”
“Well,” retorted Jarvis defiantly, “that only proves that government is a primitive device, doesn’t it? With a perfect race you wouldn’t need it at all; government is a confession of weakness, isn’t it? It’s a confession that part of the people won’t cooperate with the rest and that you need laws to restrain those individuals which a psychologist calls antisocial. If there were no antisocial persons—criminals and such—you wouldn’t need laws or police, would you?”
“But government! You’d need government! How about public works—wars—taxes?”
“No wars on Mars, in spite of being named after the War God. No point in wars here; the population is too thin and too scattered, and besides, it takes the help of every single community to keep the canal system functioning. No taxes because, apparently, all individuals cooperate in building public works. No competition to cause trouble, because anybody can help himself to anything. As I said, with a perfect race government is entirely unnecessary.”
“And do you consider the Martians a perfect race?” asked the captain grimly.
“Not at all! But they’ve existed so much longer than man that they’re evolved, socially at least, to the point where they don’t need government. They work together, that’s all.” Jarvis paused. “Queer, isn’t it—as if Mother Nature were carrying on two experiments, one at home and one on Mars. On earth it’s trial of an emotional, highly competitive race in a world of plenty; here it’s the trial of a quiet, friendly race on a desert, unproductive, and inhospitable world. Everything here makes for cooperation. Why, there isn’t even the factor that causes so much trouble at home—sex!”
“Yeah: Tweel’s people reproduce just like the barrels in the mud cities; two individuals grow a third one between them. Another proof of Leroy’s theory that Martian life is neither animal nor vegetable. Besides, Tweel was a good enough host to let him poke down his beak and twiddle his feathers, and the examination convinced Leroy.”
“Oui,” confirmed the biologist. “It is true.”
“But anarchy!” grumbled Harrison disgustedly. “It would show up on a dizzy, half-dead pill like Mars!”
“It’ll be a good many centuries before you’ll have to worry about it on earth,” grinned Jarvis. He resumed his narrative.
“Well, we wandered through that sepulchral city, taking pictures of everything. And then—” Jarvis paused and shuddered—“then I took a notion to have a look at that valley we’d spotted from the rocket. I don’t know why. But when we tried to steer Tweel in that direction, he set up such a squawking and screeching that I thought he’d gone batty.”
“If possible!” jeered Harrison.
“So we started over there without him; he kept wailing and screaming, ‘No—no—no! Tick!’ but that made us the more curious. He sailed over our heads and stuck on his beak, and went through a dozen other antics, but we ploughed on, and finally he gave up and trudged disconsolately along with us.
“The valley wasn’t more than a mile southeast of the city. Tweel could have covered the distance in twenty jumps, but he lagged and loitered and kept pointing back at the city and wailing ‘No—no—no!’ Then he’d sail up into the air and zip down on his beak directly in front of us, and we’d have to walk around him. I’d seen him do lots of crazy things before, of course; I was used to them, but it was as plain as print that he didn’t want us to see that valley.”
“Why?” queried Harrison.
“You asked why we came back like tramps,” said Jarvis with a faint shudder. “You’ll learn. We plugged along up a low rocky hill that bounded it, and as we neared the top, Tweel said, ‘No breet’, Tick! No breet’!’ Well, those were the words he used to describe the silicon monster; they were also the words he had used to tell me that the image of Fancy Long, the one that had almost lured me to the dream-beast, wasn’t real. I remembered that, but it meant nothing to me—then!
“Right after that, Tweel said, ‘You one-one-two, he one-one-two,’ and then I began to see. That was the phrase he had used to explain the dream-beast to tell me that what I thought, the creature thought—to tell me how the thing lured its victims by their own desires. So I warned Leroy; it seemed to me that even the dream-beast couldn’t be dangerous if we were warned and expecting it. Well, I was wrong!
“As we reached the crest, Tweel spun his head completely around, so his feet were forward but his eyes looked backward, as if he feared to gaze into the valley. Leroy and I stared out over it, just a gray waste like this around us, with the gleam of the south polar cap far beyond its southern rim. That’s what it was one second; the next it was—Paradise!”
“What?” exclaimed the captain.
Jarvis turned to Leroy. “Can you describe it?” he asked.
The biologist waved helpless hands. “C’est impossible!” he whispered. “Il me rend muet!”
“It strikes me dumb, too,” muttered Jarvis. “I don’t know how to tell it; I’m a chemist, not a poet. Paradise is as good a word as I can think of, and that’s not at all right. It was Paradise and Hell in one!”
“Will you talk sense?” growled Harrison.
“As much of it as makes sense. I tell you, one moment we were looking at a grey valley covered with blobby plants, and the next—Lord! You can’t imagine that next moment! How would you like to see all your dreams made real? Every desire you’d ever had gratified? Everything you’d ever wanted there for the taking?”
“I’d like it fine!” said the captain.
“You’re welcome, then!—not only your noble desires, remember! Every good impulse, yes—but also every nasty little wish, every vicious thought, everything you’d ever desired, good or bad! The dream-beasts are marvelous salesmen, but they lack the moral sense!”
“Yes. It was a valley of them. Hundreds, I suppose, maybe thousands. Enough, at any rate, to spread out a complete picture of your desires, even all the forgotten ones that must have been drawn out of the subconscious. A Paradise—of sorts! I saw a dozen Fancy Longs, in every costume I’d ever admired on her, and some I must have imagined. I saw every beautiful woman I’ve ever known, and all of them pleading for my attention. I saw every lovely place I’d ever wanted to be, all packed queerly into that little valley. And I saw—other things.” He shook his head soberly. “It wasn’t all exactly pretty. Lord! How much of the beast is left in us! I suppose if every man alive could have one look at that weird valley, and could see just once what nastiness is hidden in him—well, the world might gain by it. I thanked heaven afterwards that Leroy—and even Tweel—saw their own pictures and not mine!”
Jarvis paused again, then resumed, “I turned dizzy with a sort of ecstasy. I closed my eyes—and with eyes closed, I still saw the whole thing! That beautiful, evil, devilish panorama was in my mind, not my eyes. That’s how those fiends work—through the mind. I knew it was the dream-beasts; I didn’t need Tweel’s wail of ‘No breet’! No breet’!’ But—I couldn’t keep away! I knew it was death beckoning, but it was worth it for one moment with the vision.”
“Which particular vision?” asked Harrison dryly.
Jarvis flushed. “No matter,” he said. “But beside me I heard Leroy’s cry of ‘Yvonne! Yvonne!’ and I knew he was trapped like myself. I fought for sanity; I kept telling myself to stop, and all the time I was rushing headlong into the snare!
“Then something tripped me. Tweel! He had come leaping from behind; as I crashed down I saw him flash over me straight toward—toward what I’d been running to, with his vicious beak pointed right at her heart!”
“Oh!” nodded the captain. “Her heart!”
“Never mind that. When I scrambled up, that particular image was gone, and Tweel was in a twist of black ropey arms, just as when I first saw him. He’d missed a vital point in the beast’s anatomy, but was jabbing away desperately with his beak.
“Somehow, the spell had lifted, or partially lifted. I wasn’t five feet from Tweel, and it took a terrific struggle, but I managed to raise my revolver and put a Boland shell into the beast. Out came a spurt of horrible black corruption, drenching Tweel and me—and I guess the sickening smell of it helped to destroy the illusion of that valley of beauty. Anyway, we managed to get Leroy away from the devil that had him, and the three of us staggered to the ridge and over. I had presence of mind enough to raise my camera over the crest and take a shot of the valley, but I’ll bet it shows nothing but gray waste and writhing horrors. What we saw was with our minds, not our eyes.”
Jarvis paused and shuddered. “The brute half poisoned Leroy,” he continued. “We dragged ourselves back to the auxiliary, called you, and did what we could to treat ourselves. Leroy took a long dose of the cognac that we had with us; we didn’t dare try anything of Tweel’s because his metabolism is so different from ours that what cured him might kill us. But the cognac seemed to work, and so, after I’d done one other thing I wanted to do, we came back here—and that’s all.”
“All, is it?” queried Harrison. “So you’ve solved all the mysteries of Mars, eh?”
“Not by a damned sight!” retorted Jarvis. “Plenty of unanswered questions are left.”
“Ja!” snapped Putz. “Der evaporation—dot iss shtopped how?”
“In the canals? I wondered about that, too; in those thousands of miles, and against this low air-pressure, you’d think they’d lose a lot. But the answer’s simple; they float a skin of oil on the water.”
Putz nodded, but Harrison cut in. “Here’s a puzzler. With only coal and oil—just combustion or electric power—where’d they get the energy to build a planet-wide canal system, thousands and thousands of miles of ’em? Think of the job we had cutting the Panama Canal to sea level, and then answer that!”
“Easy!” grinned Jarvis. “Martian gravity and Martian air—that’s the answer. Figure it out: First, the dirt they dug only weighed a third its earth-weight. Second, a steam engine here expands against ten pounds per square inch less air pressure than on earth. Third, they could build the engine three times as large here with no greater internal weight. And fourth, the whole planet’s nearly level. Right, Putz?”
The engineer nodded. “Ja! Der shteam—engine—it iss sieben-und zwanzig—twenty-seven times so effective here.”
“Well, there does go the last mystery then,” mused Harrison.
“Yeah?” queried Jarvis sardonically. “You answer these, then. What was the nature of that vast empty city? Why do the Martians need canals, since we never saw them eat or drink? Did they really visit the earth before the dawn of history, and, if not atomic energy, what powered their ship? Since Tweel’s race seems to need little or no water, are they merely operating the canals for some higher creature that does? Are there other intelligences on Mars? If not, what was the demon-faced imp we saw with the book? There are a few mysteries for you!”
“I know one or two more!” growled Harrison, glaring suddenly at little Leroy. “You and your visions! ‘Yvonne!’ eh? Your wife’s name is Marie, isn’t it?”
The little biologist turned crimson. “Oui,” he admitted unhappily. He turned pleading eyes on the captain. “Please,” he said. “In Paris tout le monde—everybody he think differently of those things—no?” He twisted uncomfortably. “Please, you will not tell Marie, n’est-ce pas?”
Harrison chuckled. “None of my business,” he said. “One more question, Jarvis. What was the one other thing you did before returning here?”
Jarvis looked diffident. “Oh—that.” He hesitated. “Well I sort of felt we owed Tweel a lot, so after some trouble, we coaxed him into the rocket and sailed him out to the wreck of the first one, over on Thyle II. Then,” he finished apologetically, “I showed him the atomic blast, got it working—and gave it to him!”
“You what?” roared the Captain. “You turned something as powerful as that over to an alien race—maybe some day as an enemy race?”
“Yes, I did,” said Jarvis. “Look here,” he argued defensively. “This lousy, dried-up pill of a desert called Mars’ll never support much human population. The Sahara desert is just as good a field for imperialism, and a lot closer to home. So we’ll never find Tweel’s race enemies. The only value we’ll find here is commercial trade with the Martians. Then why shouldn’t I give Tweel a chance for survival? With atomic energy, they can run their canal system a hundred percent instead of only one out of five, as Putz’s observations showed. They can repopulate those ghostly cities; they can resume their arts and industries; they can trade with the nations of the earth—and I’ll bet they can teach us a few things,” he paused, “if they can figure out the atomic blast, and I’ll lay odds they can. They’re no fools, Tweel and his ostrich-faced Martians!”
“But what is reality?” asked the gnomelike man. He gestured at the tall banks of buildings that loomed around Central Park, with their countless windows glowing like the cave fires of a city of Cro-Magnon people. “All is dream, all is illusion; I am your vision as you are mine.”
Dan Burke, struggling for clarity of thought through the fumes of liquor, stared without comprehension at the tiny figure of his companion. He began to regret the impulse that had driven him to leave the party to seek fresh air in the park, and to fall by chance into the company of this diminutive old madman. But he had needed escape; this was one party too many, and not even the presence of Claire with her trim ankles could hold him there. He felt an angry desire to go home—not to his hotel, but home to Chicago and to the comparative peace of the Board of Trade. But he was leaving tomorrow anyway.
“You drink,” said the elfin, bearded face, “to make real a dream. Is it not so? Either to dream that what you seek is yours, or else to dream that what you hate is conquered. You drink to escape reality, and the irony is that even reality is a dream.”
“Cracked!” thought Dan again.
“Or so,” concluded the other, “says the philosopher Berkeley.”
“Berkeley?” echoed Dan. His head was clearing; memories of a Sophomore course in Elementary Philosophy drifted back. “Bishop Berkeley, eh?”
“You know him, then? The philosopher of Idealism—no?—the one who argues that we do not see, feel, hear, taste the object, but that we have only the sensation of seeing, feeling, hearing, tasting.”
“I—sort of recall it.”
“Hah! But sensations are mental phenomena. They exist in our minds. How, then, do we know that the objects themselves do not exist only in our minds?” He waved again at the light-flecked buildings. “You do not see that wall of masonry; you perceive only a sensation, a feeling of sight. The rest you interpret.”
“You see the same thing,” retorted Dan.
“How do you know I do? Even if you knew that what I call red would not be green could you see through my eyes—even if you knew that, how do you know that I too am not a dream of yours?”
Dan laughed. “Of course nobody knows anything. You just get what information you can through the windows of your five senses, and then make your guesses. When they’re wrong, you pay the penalty.” His mind was clear now save for a mild headache. “Listen,” he said suddenly. “You can argue a reality away to an illusion; that’s easy. But if your friend Berkeley is right, why can’t you take a dream and make it real? If it works one way, it must work the other.”
The beard waggled; elf-bright eyes glittered queerly at him. “All artists do that,” said the old man softly. Dan felt that something more quivered on the verge of utterance.
“That’s an evasion,” he grunted. “Anybody can tell the difference between a picture and the real thing, or between a movie and life.”
“But,” whispered the other, “the realer the better, no? And if one could make a—a movie—very real indeed, what would you say then?”
“Nobody can, though.”
The eyes glittered strangely again. “I can!” he whispered. “I did!”
“Made real a dream.” The voice turned angry. “Fools! I bring it here to sell to Westman, the camera people, and what do they say? ‘It isn’t clear. Only one person can use it at a time. It’s too expensive.’ Fools! Fools!”
“Listen! I’m Albert Ludwig—Professor Ludwig.” As Dan was silent, he continued, “It means nothing to you, eh? But listen—a movie that gives one sight and sound. Suppose now I add taste, smell, even touch, if your interest is taken by the story. Suppose I make it so that you are in the story, you speak to the shadows, and the shadows reply, and instead of being on a screen, the story is all about you, and you are in it. Would that be to make real a dream?”
“How the devil could you do that?”
“How? How? But simply! First my liquid positive, then my magic spectacles. I photograph the story in a liquid with light-sensitive chromates. I build up a complex solution—do you see? I add taste chemically and sound electrically. And when the story is recorded, then I put the solution in my spectacle—my movie projector. I electrolyze the solution, break it down; the older chromates go first, and out comes the story, sight, sound, smell, taste—all!”
“If your interest is taken, your mind supplies that.” Eagerness crept into his voice. “You will look at it, Mr.—?”
“Burke,” said Dan. “A swindle!” he thought. Then a spark of recklessness glowed out of the vanishing fumes of alcohol. “Why not?” he grunted.
He rose; Ludwig, standing, came scarcely to his shoulder. A queer gnomelike old man, Dan thought as he followed him across the park and into one of the scores of apartment hotels in the vicinity.
In his room Ludwig fumbled in a bag, producing a device vaguely reminiscent of a gas mask. There were goggles and a rubber mouthpiece; Dan examined it curiously, while the little bearded professor brandished a bottle of watery liquid.
“Here it is!” he gloated. “My liquid positive, the story. Hard photography—infernally hard, therefore the simplest story. A Utopia—just two characters and you, the audience. Now, put the spectacles on. Put them on and tell me what fools the Westman people are!” He decanted some of the liquid into the mask, and trailed a twisted wire to a device on the table. “A rectifier,” he explained. “For the electrolysis.”
“Must you use all the liquid?” asked Dan. “If you use part, do you see only part of the story? And which part?”
“Every drop has all of it, but you must fill the eyepieces.” Then as Dan slipped the device gingerly on, “So! Now what do you see?”
“Not a damn thing. Just the windows and the lights across the street.”
“Of course. But now I start the electrolysis. Now!”
There was a moment of chaos. The liquid before Dan’s eyes clouded suddenly white, and formless sounds buzzed. He moved to tear the device from his head, but emerging forms in the mistiness caught his interest. Giant things were writhing there.
The scene steadied; the whiteness was dissipating like mist in summer. Unbelieving, still gripping the arms of that unseen chair, he was staring at a forest. But what a forest! Incredible, unearthly, beautiful! Smooth boles ascended inconceivably toward a brightening sky, trees bizarre as the forests of the Carboniferous age. Infinitely overhead swayed misty fronds, and the verdure showed brown and green in the heights. And there were birds—at least, curiously lovely pipings and twitterings were all about him though he saw no creatures—thin elfin whistlings like fairy bugles sounded softly.
He sat frozen, entranced. A louder fragment of melody drifted down to him, mounting in exquisite, ecstatic bursts, now clear as sounding metal, now soft as remembered music. For a moment he forgot the chair whose arms he gripped, the miserable hotel room invisibly about him, old Ludwig, his aching head. He imagined himself alone in the midst of that lovely glade. “Eden!” he muttered, and the swelling music of unseen voices answered.
Some measure of reason returned. “Illusion!” he told himself. Clever optical devices, not reality. He groped for the chair’s arm, found it, and clung to it; he scraped his feet and found again an inconsistency. To his eyes the ground was mossy verdure; to his touch it was merely a thin hotel carpet.
The elfin buglings sounded gently. A faint, deliciously sweet perfume breathed against him; he glanced up to watch the opening of a great crimson blossom on the nearest tree, and a tiny reddish sun edged into the circle of sky above him. The fairy orchestra swelled louder in its light, and the notes sent a thrill of wistfulness through him. Illusion? If it were, it made reality almost unbearable; he wanted to believe that somewhere—somewhere this side of dreams, there actually existed this region of loveliness. An outpost of Paradise? Perhaps.
And then—far through the softening mists, he caught a movement that was not the swaying of verdure, a shimmer of silver more solid than mist. Something approached. He watched the figure as it moved, now visible, now hidden by trees; very soon he perceived that it was human, but it was almost upon him before he realized that it was a girl.
She wore a robe of silvery, half-translucent stuff, luminous as starbeams; a thin band of silver bound glowing black hair about her forehead, and other garment or ornament she had none. Her tiny white feet were bare to the mossy forest floor as she stood no more than a pace from him, staring dark-eyed. The thin music sounded again; she smiled.
Dan summoned stumbling thoughts. Was this being also—illusion? Had she no more reality than the loveliness of the forest? He opened his lips to speak, but a strained excited voice sounded in his ears. “Who are you?” Had he spoken? The voice had come as if from another, like the sound of one’s words in fever.
The girl smiled again. “English!” she said in queer soft tones. “I can speak a little English.” She spoke slowly, carefully. “I learned it from”—she hesitated—“my mother’s father, whom they call the Grey Weaver.”
Again came the voice in Dan’s ears. “Who are you?”
“I am called Galatea,” she said. “I came to find you.”
“To find me?” echoed the voice that was Dan’s.
“Leucon, who is called the Grey Weaver, told me,” she explained smiling. “He said you will stay with us until the second noon from this.” She cast a quick slanting glance at the pale sun now full above the clearing, then stepped closer. “What are you called?”
“Dan,” he muttered. His voice sounded oddly different.
“What a strange name!” said the girl. She stretched out her bare arm. “Come,” she smiled.
Dan touched her extended hand, feeling without any surprise the living warmth of her fingers. He had forgotten the paradoxes of illusion; this was no longer illusion to him, but reality itself. It seemed to him that he followed her, walking over the shadowed turf that gave with springy crunch beneath his tread, though Galatea left hardly an imprint. He glanced down, noting that he himself wore a silver garment, and that his feet were bare; with the glance he felt a feathery breeze on his body and a sense of mossy earth on his feet.
“Galatea,” said his voice. “Galatea, what place is this? What language do you speak?”
She glanced back laughing. “Why, this is Paracosma, of course, and this is our language.”
“Paracosma,” muttered Dan. “Para—cosma!” A fragment of Greek that had survived somehow from a Sophomore course a decade in the past came strangely back to him. Paracosma! Land-beyond-the-world!
Galatea cast a smiling glance at him. “Does the real world seem strange,” she queried, “after that shadow land of yours?”
“Shadow land?” echoed Dan, bewildered. “This is shadow, not my world.”
The girl’s smile turned quizzical. “Poof!” she retorted with an impudently lovely pout. “And I suppose, then, that I am the phantom instead of you!” She laughed. “Do I seem ghostlike?”
Dan made no reply; he was puzzling over unanswerable questions as he trod behind the lithe figure of his guide. The aisle between the unearthly trees widened, and the giants were fewer. It seemed a mile, perhaps, before a sound of tinkling water obscured that other strange music; they emerged on the bank of a little river, swift and crystalline, that rippled and gurgled its way from glowing pool to flashing rapids, sparkling under the pale sun. Galatea bent over the brink and cupped her hands, raising a few mouthfuls of water to her lips; Dan followed her example, finding the liquid stinging cold.
“How do we cross?” he asked.
“You can wade up there,”—the dryad who led him gestured to a sunlit shallows above a tiny falls—“but I always cross here.” She poised herself for a moment on the green bank, then dove like a silver arrow into the pool. Dan followed; the water stung his body like champagne, but a stroke or two carried him across to where Galatea had already emerged with a glistening of creamy bare limbs. Her garment clung tight as a metal sheath to her wet body; he felt a breathtaking thrill at the sight of her. And then, miraculously, the silver cloth was dry, the droplets rolled off as if from oiled silk, and they moved briskly on.
The incredible forest had ended with the river; they walked over a meadow studded with little, many-hued, star-shaped flowers, whose fronds underfoot were soft as a lawn. Yet still the sweet pipings followed them, now loud, now whisper-soft, in a tenuous web of melody.
“Galatea!” said Dan suddenly. “Where is the music coming from?”
She looked back amazed. “You silly one!” she laughed. “From the flowers, of course. See!” she plucked a purple star and held it to his ear; true enough, a faint and plaintive melody hummed out of the blossom. She tossed it in his startled face and skipped on.
A little copse appeared ahead, not of the gigantic forest trees, but of lesser growths, bearing flowers and fruits of iridescent colors, and a tiny brook bubbled through. And there stood the objective of their journey—a building of white, marble-like stone, single-storied and vine covered, with broad glassless windows. They trod upon a path of bright pebbles to the arched entrance, and here, on an intricate stone bench, sat a grey-bearded patriarchal individual. Galatea addressed him in a liquid language that reminded Dan of the flower-pipings; then she turned. “This is Leucon,” she said, as the ancient rose from his seat and spoke in English.
“We are happy, Galatea and I, to welcome you, since visitors are a rare pleasure here, and those from your shadowy country most rare.”
Dan uttered puzzled words of thanks, and the old man nodded, reseating himself on the carven bench; Galatea skipped through the arched entrance, and Dan, after an irresolute moment, dropped to the remaining bench. Once more his thoughts were whirling in perplexed turbulence. Was all this indeed but illusion? Was he sitting, in actuality, in a prosaic hotel room, peering through magic spectacles that pictured this world about him, or was he, transported by some miracle, really sitting here in this land of loveliness? He touched the bench; stone, hard and unyielding, met his fingers.
“Leucon,” said his voice, “how did you know I was coming?”
“I was told,” said the other.
“By no one.”
“Why—someone must have told you!”
The Grey Weaver shook his solemn head. “I was just told.”
Dan ceased his questioning, content for the moment to drink in the beauty about him and then Galatea returned bearing a crystal bowl of the strange fruits. They were piled in colorful disorder, red, purple, orange and yellow, pear-shaped, egg-shaped, and clustered spheroids—fantastic, unearthly. He selected a pale, transparent ovoid, bit into it, and was deluged by a flood of sweet liquid, to the amusement of the girl. She laughed and chose a similar morsel; biting a tiny puncture in the end, she squeezed the contents into her mouth. Dan took a different sort, purple and tart as Rhenish wine, and then another, filled with edible, almond-like seeds. Galatea laughed delightedly at his surprises, and even Leucon smiled a grey smile. Finally Dan tossed the last husk into the brook beside them, where it danced briskly toward the river.
“Galatea,” he said, “do you ever go to a city? What cities are in Paracosma?”
“Cities? What are cities?”
“Places where many people live close together.”
“Oh,” said the girl frowning. “No. There are no cities here.”
“Then where are the people of Paracosma? You must have neighbors.”
The girl looked puzzled. “A man and a woman live off there,” she said, gesturing toward a distant blue range of hills dim on the horizon. “Far away over there. I went there once, but Leucon and I prefer the valley.”
“But Galatea!” protested Dan. “Are you and Leucon alone in this valley? Where—what happened to your parents—your father and mother?”
“They went away. That way—toward the sunrise. They’ll return some day.”
“I never heard those words,” said Galatea. “There are no such things here.” She sniffed contemptuously. “Lawless people!”
“What is death?”
“It’s—” Dan paused helplessly. “It’s like falling asleep and never waking. It’s what happens to everyone at the end of life.”
“I never heard of such a thing as the end of life!” said the girl decidedly. “There isn’t such a thing.”
“What happens, then,” queried Dan desperately, “when one grows old?”
“Nothing, silly! No one grows old unless he wants to, like Leucon. A person grows to the age he likes best and then stops. It’s a law!”
Dan gathered his chaotic thoughts. He stared into Galatea’s dark, lovely eyes. “Have you stopped yet?”
The dark eyes dropped; he was amazed to see a deep, embarrassed flush spread over her cheeks. She looked at Leucon nodding reflectively on his bench, then back to Dan, meeting his gaze.
“Not yet,” he said.
“And when will you, Galatea?”
“When I have had the one child permitted me. You see”—she stared down at her dainty toes—“one cannot—bear children—afterwards.”
“Permitted? Permitted by whom?”
“By a law.”
“Laws! Is everything here governed by laws? What of chance and accidents?”
“What are those—chance and accidents?”
“Things unexpected—things unforeseen.”
“Nothing is unforeseen,” said Galatea, still soberly. She repeated slowly, “Nothing is unforeseen.” He fancied her voice was wistful.
Leucon looked up. “Enough of this,” he said abruptly. He turned to Dan, “I know these words of yours—chance, disease, death. They are not for Paracosma. Keep them in your unreal country.”
“Where did you hear them, then?”
“From Galatea’s mother,” said the Grey Weaver, “who had them from your predecessor—a phantom who visited here before Galatea was born.”
Dan had a vision of Ludwig’s face. “What was he like?”
“Much like you.”
“But his name?”
The old man’s mouth was suddenly grim. “We do not speak of him,” he said and rose, entering the dwelling in cold silence.
“He goes to weave,” said Galatea after a moment. Her lovely, piquant face was still troubled.
“What does he weave?”
“This,” She fingered the silver cloth of her gown. “He weaves it out of metal bars on a very clever machine. I do not know the method.”
“Who made the machine?”
“It was here.”
“But—Galatea! Who built the house? Who planted these fruit trees?”
“They were here. The house and trees were always here.” She lifted her eyes. “I told you everything had been foreseen, from the beginning until eternity—everything. The house and trees and machine were ready for Leucon and my parents and me. There is a place for my child, who will be a girl, and a place for her child—and so on forever.”
Dan thought a moment. “Were you born here?”
“I don’t know.” He noted in sudden concern that her eyes were glistening with tears.
“Galatea, dear! Why are you unhappy? What’s wrong?”
“Why, nothing!” She shook her black curls, smiled suddenly at him. “What could be wrong? How can one be unhappy in Paracosma?” She sprang erect and seized his hand. “Come! Let’s gather fruit for tomorrow.”
She darted off in a whirl of flashing silver, and Dan followed her around the wing of the edifice. Graceful as a dancer she leaped for a branch above her head, caught it laughingly, and tossed a great golden globe to him. She loaded his arms with the bright prizes and sent him back to the bench, and when he returned, she piled it so full of fruit that a deluge of colorful spheres dropped around him. She laughed again, and sent them spinning into the brook with thrusts of her rosy toes, while Dan watched her with an aching wistfulness. Then suddenly she was facing him; for a long, tense instant they stood motionless, eyes upon eyes, and then she turned away and walked slowly around to the arched portal. He followed her with his burden of fruit; his mind was once more in a turmoil of doubt and perplexity.
The little sun was losing itself behind the trees of that colossal forest to the west, and a coolness stirred among long shadows. The brook was purple-hued in the dusk, but its cheery notes mingled still with the flower music. Then the sun was hidden; the shadow fingers darkened the meadow; of a sudden the flowers were still, and the brook gurgled alone in a world of silence. In silence too, Dan entered the doorway.
The chamber within was a spacious one, floored with large black and white squares; exquisite benches of carved marble were here and there. Old Leucon, in a far corner, bent over an intricate, glistening mechanism, and as Dan entered he drew a shining length of silver cloth from it, folded it, and placed it carefully aside. There was a curious, unearthly fact that Dan noted; despite windows open to the evening, no night insects circled the globes that glowed at intervals from niches in the walls.
Galatea stood in a doorway to his left, leaning half-wearily against the frame; he placed the bowl of fruit on a bench at the entrance and moved to her side.
“This is yours,” she said, indicating the room beyond. He looked in upon a pleasant, smaller chamber; a window framed a starry square, and a thin, swift, nearly silent stream of water gushed from the mouth of a carved human head on the left wall, curving into a six-foot basin sunk in the floor. Another of the graceful benches covered with the silver cloth completed the furnishings; a single glowing sphere, pendant by a chain from the ceiling, illuminated the room. Dan turned to the girl, whose eyes were still unwontedly serious.
“This is ideal,” he said, “but, Galatea, how am I to turn out the light?”
“Turn it out?” she said. “You must cap it—so!” A faint smile showed again on her lips as she dropped a metal covering over the shining sphere. They stood tense in the darkness; Dan sensed her nearness achingly, and then the light was on once more. She moved toward the door, and there paused, taking his hand.
“Dear shadow,” she said softly, “I hope your dreams are music.” She was gone.
Dan stood irresolute in his chamber; he glanced into the large room where Leucon still bent over his work, and the Grey Weaver raised a hand in a solemn salutation, but said nothing. He felt no urge for the old man’s silent company and turned back into his room to prepare for slumber.
Almost instantly, it seemed, the dawn was upon him and bright elfin pipings were all about him, while the odd ruddy sun sent a broad slanting plane of light across the room. He rose as fully aware of his surroundings as if he had not slept at all; the pool tempted him and he bathed in stinging water. Thereafter he emerged into the central chamber, noting curiously that the globes still glowed in dim rivalry to the daylight. He touched one casually; it was cool as metal to his fingers, and lifted freely from its standard. For a moment he held the cold flaming thing in his hands, then replaced it and wandered into the dawn.
Galatea was dancing up the path, eating a strange fruit as rosy as her lips. She was merry again, once more the happy nymph who had greeted him, and she gave him a bright smile as he chose a sweet green ovoid for his breakfast.
“Come on!” she called. “To the river!”
She skipped away toward the unbelievable forest; Dan followed, marveling that her lithe speed was so easy a match for his stronger muscles. Then they were laughing in the pool, splashing about until Galatea drew herself to the bank, glowing and panting. He followed her as she lay relaxed; strangely, he was neither tired nor breathless, with no sense of exertion. A question recurred to him, as yet unasked.
“Galatea,” said his voice, “Whom will you take as mate?”
Her eyes went serious. “I don’t know,” she said. “At the proper time he will come. That is a law.”
“And will you be happy?”
“Of course.” She seemed troubled. “Isn’t everyone happy?”
“Not where I live, Galatea.”
“Then that must be a strange place—that ghostly world of yours. A rather terrible place.”
“It is, often enough,” Dan agreed. “I wish—” He paused. What did he wish? Was he not talking to an illusion, a dream, an apparition? He looked at the girl, at her glistening black hair, her eyes, her soft white skin, and then, for a tragic moment, he tried to feel the arms of that drab hotel chair beneath his hands—and failed. He smiled; he reached out his fingers to touch her bare arm, and for an instant she looked back at him with startled, sober eyes, and sprang to her feet.
“Come on! I want to show you my country.” She set off down the stream, and Dan rose reluctantly to follow.
What a day that was! They traced the little river from still pool to singing rapids, and ever about them were the strange twitterings and pipings that were the voices of the flowers. Every turn brought a new vista of beauty; every moment brought a new sense of delight. They talked or were silent; when they were thirsty, the cool river was at hand; when they were hungry, fruit offered itself. When they were tired, there was always a deep pool and a mossy bank; and when they were rested, a new beauty beckoned. The incredible trees towered in numberless forms of fantasy, but on their own side of the river was still the flower-starred meadow. Galatea twisted him a bright-blossomed garland for his head, and thereafter he moved always with a sweet singing about him. But little by little the red sun slanted toward the forest, and the hours dripped away. It was Dan who pointed it out, and reluctantly they turned homeward.
As they returned, Galatea sang a strange song, plaintive and sweet as the medley of river and flower music. And again her eyes were sad.
“What song is that?” he asked.
“It is a song sung by another Galatea,” she answered, “who is my mother.” She laid her hand on his arm. “I will make it into English for you.” She sang:
“The River lies in flower and fern, In flower and fern it breathes a song. It breathes a song of your return, Of your return in years too long. In years too long its murmurs bring Its murmurs bring their vain replies, Their vain replies the flowers sing, The flowers sing, ‘The River lies!’ ”
Her voice quavered on the final notes; there was silence save for the tinkle of water and the flower bugles. Dan said, “Galatea—” and paused. The girl was again somber-eyed, tearful. He said huskily, “That’s a sad song, Galatea. Why was your mother sad? You said everyone was happy in Paracosma.”
“She broke a law,” replied the girl tonelessly. “It is the inevitable way to sorrow.” She faced him. “She fell in love with a phantom!” Galatea said. “One of your shadowy race, who came and stayed and then had to go back. So when her appointed lover came, it was too late; do you understand? But she yielded finally to the law, and is forever unhappy, and goes wandering from place to place about the world.” She paused. “I shall never break a law,” she said defiantly.
Dan took her hand. “I would not have you unhappy, Galatea. I want you always happy.”
She shook her head. “I am happy,” she said, and smiled a tender, wistful smile.
They were silent a long time as they trudged the way homeward. The shadows of the forest giants reached out across the river as the sun slipped behind them. For a distance they walked hand in hand, but as they reached the path of pebbly brightness near the house, Galatea drew away and sped swiftly before him. Dan followed as quickly as he might; when he arrived, Leucon sat on his bench by the portal, and Galatea had paused on the threshold. She watched his approach with eyes in which he again fancied the glint of tears.
“I am very tired,” she said, and slipped within.
Dan moved to follow, but the old man raised a staying hand.
“Friend from the shadows,” he said, “will you hear me a moment?”
Dan paused, acquiesced, and dropped to the opposite bench. He felt a sense of foreboding; nothing pleasant awaited him.
“There is something to be said,” Leucon continued, “and I say it without desire to pain you, if phantoms feel pain. It is this: Galatea loves you, though I think she has not yet realized it.”
“I love her too,” said Dan.
The Grey Weaver stared at him. “I do not understand. Substance, indeed, may love shadow, but how can shadow love substance?”
“I love her,” insisted Dan.
“Then woe to both of you! For this is impossible in Paracosma; it is a confliction with the laws. Galatea’s mate is appointed, perhaps even now approaching.”
“Laws! Laws!” muttered Dan. “Whose laws are they? Not Galatea’s nor mine!”
“But they are,” said the Grey Weaver. “It is not for you nor for me to criticize them—though I yet wonder what power could annul them to permit your presence here!”
“I had no voice in your laws.”
The old man peered at him in the dusk. “Has anyone, anywhere, a voice in the laws?” he queried.
“In my country we have,” retorted Dan.
“Madness!” growled Leucon. “Manmade laws! Of what use are man-made laws with only man-made penalties, or none at all? If you shadows make a law that the wind shall blow only from the east, does the west wind obey it?”
“We do pass such laws,” acknowledged Dan bitterly. “They may be stupid, but they’re no more unjust than yours.”
“Ours,” said the Grey Weaver, “are the unalterable laws of the world, the laws of Nature. Violation is always unhappiness. I have seen it; I have known it in another, in Galatea’s mother, though Galatea is stronger than she.” He paused. “Now,” he continued, “I ask only for mercy; your stay is short, and I ask that you do no more harm than is already done. Be merciful; give her no more to regret.”
He rose and moved through the archway; when Dan followed a moment later, he was already removing a square of silver from his device in the corner. Dan turned silent and unhappy to his own chamber, where the jet of water tinkled faintly as a distant bell.
Again he rose at the glow of dawn, and again Galatea was before him, meeting him at the door with her bowl of fruit. She deposited her burden, giving him a wan little smile of greeting, and stood facing him as if waiting.
“Come with me, Galatea,” he said.
“To the river bank. To talk.”
They trudged in silence to the brink of Galatea’s pool. Dan noted a subtle difference in the world about him; outlines were vague, the thin flower pipings less audible, and the very landscape was queerly unstable, shifting like smoke when he wasn’t looking at it directly. And strangely, though he had brought the girl here to talk to her, he had now nothing to say, but sat in aching silence with his eyes on the loveliness of her face.
Galatea pointed at the red ascending sun. “So short a time,” she said, “before you go back to your phantom world. I shall be sorry, very sorry.” She touched his cheek with her fingers. “Dear shadow!”
“Suppose,” said Dan huskily, “that I won’t go. What if I won’t leave here?” His voice grew fiercer. “I’ll not go! I’m going to stay!”
The calm mournfulness of the girl’s face checked him; he felt the irony of struggling against the inevitable progress of a dream. She spoke. “Had I the making of the laws, you should stay. But you can’t, dear one. You can’t!”
Forgotten now were the words of the Grey Weaver. “I love you, Galatea,” he said.
“And I you,” she whispered. “See, dearest shadow, how I break the same law my mother broke, and am glad to face the sorrow it will bring.” She placed her hand tenderly over his. “Leucon is very wise and I am bound to obey him, but this is beyond his wisdom because he let himself grow old.” She paused. “He let himself grow old,” she repeated slowly. A strange light gleamed in her dark eyes as she turned suddenly to Dan.
“Dear one!” she said tensely. “That thing that happens to the old—that death of yours! What follows it?”
“What follows death?” he echoed. “Who knows?”
“But—” Her voice was quivering. “But one can’t simply—vanish! There must be an awakening.”
“Who knows?” said Dan again. “There are those who believe we wake to a happier world, but—” He shook his head hopelessly.
“It must be true! Oh, it must be!” Galatea cried. “There must be more for you than the mad world you speak of!” She leaned very close. “Suppose, dear,” she said, “that when my appointed lover arrives, I send him away. Suppose I bear no child, but let myself grow old, older than Leucon, old until death. Would I join you in your happier world?”
“Galatea!” he cried distractedly. “Oh, my dearest—what a terrible thought!”
“More terrible than you know,” she whispered, still very close to him. “It is more than violation of a law; it is rebellion! Everything is planned, everything was foreseen, except this; and if I bear no child, her place will be left unfilled, and the places of her children, and of their children, and so on until some day the whole great plan of Paracosma fails of whatever its destiny was to be.” Her whisper grew very faint and fearful. “It is destruction, but I love you more than I fear—death!”
Dan’s arms were about her. “No, Galatea! No! Promise me!”
She murmured, “I can promise and then break my promise.” She drew his head down; their lips touched, and he felt a fragrance and a taste like honey in her kiss. “At least,” she breathed. “I can give you a name by which to love you. Philometros! Measure of my love!”
“A name?” muttered Dan. A fantastic idea shot through his mind—a way of proving to himself that all this was reality, and not just a page that anyone could read who wore old Ludwig’s magic spectacles. If Galatea would speak his name! Perhaps, he thought daringly, perhaps then he could stay! He thrust her away.
“Galatea!” he cried. “Do you remember my name?”
She nodded silently, her unhappy eyes on his.
“Then say it! Say it, dear!”
She stared at him dumbly, miserably, but made no sound.
“Say it, Galatea!” he pleaded desperately. “My name, dear—just my name!” Her mouth moved; she grew pale with effort and Dan could have sworn that his name trembled on her quivering lips, though no sound came.
At last she spoke. “I can’t, dearest one! Oh, I can’t! A law forbids it!” She stood suddenly erect, pallid as an ivory carving. “Leucon calls!” she said, and darted away. Dan followed along the pebbled path, but her speed was beyond his powers; at the portal he found only the Grey Weaver standing cold and stern. He raised his hand as Dan appeared.
“Your time is short,” he said. “Go, thinking of the havoc you have done.”
“Where’s Galatea?” gasped Dan.
“I have sent her away.” The old man blocked the entrance; for a moment Dan would have struck him aside, but something withheld him. He stared wildly about the meadow—there! A flash of silver beyond the river, at the edge of the forest. He turned and raced toward it, while motionless and cold the Grey Weaver watched him go.
“Galatea!” he called. “Galatea!”
He was over the river now, on the forest bank, running through columned vistas that whirled about him like mist. The world had gone cloudy; fine flakes danced like snow before his eyes; Paracosma was dissolving around him. Through the chaos he fancied a glimpse of the girl, but closer approach left him still voicing his hopeless cry of “Galatea!”
After an endless time, he paused; something familiar about the spot struck him, and just as the red sun edged above him, he recognized the place—the very point at which he had entered Paracosma! A sense of futility overwhelmed him as for a moment he gazed at an unbelievable apparition—a dark window hung in midair before him through which glowed rows of electric lights. Ludwig’s window!
It vanished. But the trees writhed and the sky darkened, and he swayed dizzily in turmoil. He realized suddenly that he was no longer standing, but sitting in the midst of the crazy glade, and his hands clutched something smooth and hard—the arms of that miserable hotel chair. Then at last he saw her, close before him—Galatea, with sorrow-stricken features, her tear-filled eyes on his. He made a terrific effort to rise, stood erect, and fell sprawling in a blaze of coruscating lights.
He struggled to his knees; walls—Ludwig’s room—encompassed him; he must have slipped from the chair. The magic spectacles lay before him, one lens splintered and spilling a fluid no longer water-clear, but white as milk.
“God!” he muttered. He felt shaken, sick, exhausted, with a bitter sense of bereavement, and his head ached fiercely. The room was drab, disgusting; he wanted to get out of it. He glanced automatically at his watch: four o’clock—he must have sat here nearly five hours. For the first time he noticed Ludwig’s absence; he was glad of it and walked dully out of the door to an automatic elevator. There was no response to his ring; someone was using the thing. He walked three flights to the street and back to his own room.
In love with a vision! Worse—in love with a girl who had never lived, in a fantastic Utopia that was literally nowhere! He threw himself on his bed with a groan that was half a sob.
He saw finally the implication of the name Galatea. Galatea—Pygmalion’s statue, given life by Venus in the ancient Grecian myth. But his Galatea, warm and lovely and vital, must remain forever without the gift of life, since he was neither Pygmalion nor God.
He woke late in the morning, staring uncomprehendingly about for the fountain and pool of Paracosma. Slow comprehension dawned; how much—how much—of last night’s experience had been real? How much was the product of alcohol? Or had old Ludwig been right, and was there no difference between reality and dream?
He changed his rumpled attire and wandered despondently to the street. He found Ludwig’s hotel at last; inquiry revealed that the diminutive professor had checked out, leaving no forwarding address.
What of it? Even Ludwig couldn’t give what he sought, a living Galatea. Dan was glad that he had disappeared; he hated the little professor. Professor? Hypnotists called themselves “professors.” He dragged through a weary day and then a sleepless night back to Chicago.
It was midwinter when he saw a suggestively tiny figure ahead of him in the Loop. Ludwig! Yet what use to hail him? His cry was automatic. “Professor Ludwig!”
The elfin figure turned, recognized him, smiled. They stepped into the shelter of a building.
“I’m sorry about your machine, Professor. I’d be glad to pay for the damage.”
“Ach, that was nothing—a cracked glass. But you—have you been ill? You look much the worse.”
“It’s nothing,” said Dan. “Your show was marvelous, Professor—marvelous! I’d have told you so, but you were gone when it ended.”
Ludwig shrugged. “I went to the lobby for a cigar. Five hours with a wax dummy, you know!”
“It was marvelous!” repeated Dan.
“So real?” smiled the other. “Only because you cooperated, then. It takes self-hypnosis.”
“It was real, all right,” agreed Dan glumly. “I don’t understand it—that strange beautiful country.”
“The trees were club-mosses enlarged by a lens,” said Ludwig. “All was trick photography, but stereoscopic, as I told you—three dimensional. The fruits were rubber; the house is a summer building on our campus—Northern University. And the voice was mine; you didn’t speak at all, except your name at the first, and I left a blank for that. I played your part, you see; I went around with the photographic apparatus strapped on my head, to keep the viewpoint always that of the observer. See?” He grinned wryly. “Luckily I’m rather short, or you’d have seemed a giant.”
“Wait a minute!” said Dan, his mind whirling. “You say you played my part. Then Galatea—is she real too?”
“Tea’s real enough,” said the Professor. “My niece, a senior at Northern, and likes dramatics. She helped me out with the thing. Why? Want to meet her?”
Dan answered vaguely, happily. An ache had vanished; a pain was eased. Paracosma was attainable at last!
The Worlds of If
I stopped on the way to the Staten Island Airport to call up, and that was a mistake, doubtless, since I had a chance of making it otherwise. But the office was affable. “We’ll hold the ship five minutes for you,” the clerk said. “That’s the best we can do.”
So I rushed back to my taxi and we spun off to the third level and sped across the Staten bridge like a comet treading a steel rainbow. I had to be in Moscow by evening, by eight o’clock, in fact, for the opening of bids on the Ural Tunnel. The Government required the personal presence of an agent of each bidder, but the firm should have known better than to send me, Dixon Wells, even though the N. J. Wells Corporation is, so to speak, my father. I have a—well, an undeserved reputation for being late to everything; something always comes up to prevent me from getting anywhere on time. It’s never my fault; this time it was a chance encounter with my old physics professor, old Haskel van Manderpootz. I couldn’t very well just say hello and goodbye to him; I’d been a favorite of his back in the college days of 2014.
I missed the airliner, of course. I was still on the Staten Bridge when I heard the roar of the catapult and the Soviet rocket Baikal hummed over us like a tracer bullet with a long tail of flame.
We got the contract anyway; the firm wired our man in Beirut and he flew up to Moscow, but it didn’t help my reputation. However, I felt a great deal better when I saw the evening papers; the Baikal, flying at the north edge of the eastbound lane to avoid a storm, had locked wings with a British fruitship and all but a hundred of her five hundred passengers were lost. I had almost become “the late Mr. Wells” in a grimmer sense.
I’d made an engagement for the following week with old van Manderpootz. It seems he’d transferred to N.Y.U. as head of the department of Newer Physics—that is, of Relativity. He deserved it; the old chap was a genius if ever there was one, and even now, eight years out of college, I remember more from his course than from half a dozen calculus, steam and gas, mechanics, and other hazards on the path to an engineer’s education. So on Tuesday night I dropped in an hour or so late, to tell the truth, since I’d forgotten about the engagement until mid-evening.
He was reading in a room as disorderly as ever. “Humph!” he grunted. “Time changes everything but habit, I see. You were a good student, Dick, but I seem to recall that you always arrived in class toward the middle of the lecture.”
“I had a course in East Hall just before,” I explained. “I couldn’t seem to make it in time.”
“Well, it’s time you learned to be on time,” he growled. Then his eyes twinkled. “Time!” he ejaculated. “The most fascinating word in the language. Here we’ve used it five times (there goes the sixth time—and the seventh!) in the first minute of conversation; each of us understands the other, yet science is just beginning to learn its meaning. Science? I mean that I am beginning to learn.”
I sat down. “You and science are synonymous,” I grinned. “Aren’t you one of the world’s outstanding physicists?”
“One of them!” he snorted. “One of them, eh! And who are the others?”
“Oh, Corveille and Hastings and Shrimski—”
“Bah! Would you mention them in the same breath with the name of van Manderpootz? A pack of jackals, eating the crumbs of ideas that drop from my feast of thoughts! Had you gone back into the last century, now—had you mentioned Einstein and de Sitter—there, perhaps, are names worthy to rank with (or just below) van Manderpootz!”
I grinned again in amusement. “Einstein was considered pretty good, wasn’t he?” I remarked. “After all, he was the first to tie time and space to the laboratory. Before him they were just philosophical concepts.”
“He didn’t!” rasped the professor. “Perhaps, in a dim, primitive fashion, he showed the way, but I—I, van Manderpootz—am the first to seize time, drag it into my laboratory, and perform an experiment on it.”
“Indeed? And what sort of experiment?”
“What experiment, other than simple measurement, is it possible to perform?” he snapped.
“Why—I don’t know. To travel in it?”
“Like these time-machines that are so popular in the current magazines? To go into the future or the past?”
“Bah! Many bahs! The future or the past—pfui! It needs no van Manderpootz to see the fallacy in that. Einstein showed us that much.”
“How? It’s conceivable, isn’t it?”
“Conceivable? And you, Dixon Wells, studied under van Manderpootz!” He grew red with emotion, then grimly calm. “Listen to me. You know how time varies with the speed of a system—Einstein’s relativity.”
“Very well. Now suppose then that the great engineer Dixon Wells invents a machine capable of traveling very fast, enormously fast, nine-tenths as fast as light. Do you follow? Good. You then fuel this miracle ship for a little jaunt of a half million miles, which, since mass (and with it inertia) increases according to the Einstein formula with increasing speed, takes all the fuel in the world. But you solve that. You use atomic energy. Then, since at nine-tenths light-speed, your ship weighs about as much as the sun, you disintegrate North America to give you sufficient motive power. You start off at that speed, a hundred and sixty-eight thousand miles per second, and you travel for two hundred and four thousand miles. The acceleration has now crushed you to death, but you have penetrated the future.” He paused, grinning sardonically. “Haven’t you?”
“And how far?”
“Use your Einstein formula!” he screeched. “How far? I’ll tell you. One second!” He grinned triumphantly. “That’s how possible it is to travel into the future. And as for the past—in the first place, you’d have to exceed light-speed, which immediately entails the use of more than an infinite number of horsepowers. We’ll assume that the great engineer Dixon Wells solves that little problem too, even though the energy output of the whole universe is not an infinite number of horsepowers. Then he applies this more than infinite power to travel at two hundred and four thousand miles per second for ten seconds. He has then penetrated the past. How far?”
Again I hesitated.
“I’ll tell you. One second!” He glared at me. “Now all you have to do is to design such a machine, and then van Manderpootz will admit the possibility of traveling into the future—for a limited number of seconds. As for the past, I have just explained that all the energy in the universe is insufficient for that.”
“But,” I stammered, “you just said that you—”
“I did not say anything about traveling into either future or past, which I have just demonstrated to you to be impossible—a practical impossibility in the one case and an absolute one in the other.”
“Then how do you travel in time?”
“Not even van Manderpootz can perform the impossible,” said the professor, now faintly jovial. He tapped a thick pad of typewriter paper on the table beside him. “See, Dick, this is the world, the universe.” He swept a finger down it. “It is long in time, and”—sweeping his hand across it—“it is broad in space, but”—now jabbing his finger against its center—“it is very thin in the fourth dimension. Van Manderpootz takes always the shortest, the most logical course. I do not travel along time, into past or future. No. Me, I travel across time, sideways!”
I gulped. “Sideways into time! What’s there?”
“What would naturally be there?” he snorted. “Ahead is the future; behind is the past. Those are real, the worlds of past and future. What worlds are neither past nor future, but contemporary and yet—extemporal—existing, as it were, in time parallel to our time?”
I shook my head.
“Idiot!” he snapped. “The conditional worlds, of course! The worlds of ‘if.’ Ahead are the worlds to be; behind are the worlds that were; to either side are the worlds that might have been—the worlds of ‘if!’ ”
“Eh?” I was puzzled. “Do you mean that you can see what will happen if I do such and such?”
“No!” he snorted. “My machine does not reveal the past nor predict the future. It will show, as I told you, the conditional worlds. You might express it, by ‘if I had done such and such, so and so would have happened.’ The worlds of the subjunctive mode.”
“Now how the devil does it do that?”
“Simple, for van Manderpootz! I use polarized light, polarized not in the horizontal or vertical planes, but in the direction of the fourth dimension—an easy matter. One uses Iceland spar under colossal pressures, that is all. And since the worlds are very thin in the direction of the fourth dimension, the thickness of a single light wave, though it be but millionths of an inch, is sufficient. A considerable improvement over time-traveling in past or future, with its impossible velocities and ridiculous distances!”
“But—are those—worlds of ‘if’—real?”
“Real? What is real? They are real, perhaps, in the sense that two is a real number as opposed to √−2, which is imaginary. They are the worlds that would have been if—Do you see?”
I nodded. “Dimly. You could see, for instance, what New York would have been like if England had won the Revolution instead of the Colonies.”
“That’s the principle, true enough, but you couldn’t see that on the machine. Part of it, you see, is a Horsten psychomat (stolen from one of my ideas, by the way) and you, the user, become part of the device. Your own mind is necessary to furnish the background. For instance, if George Washington could have used the mechanism after the signing of peace, he could have seen what you suggest. We can’t. You can’t even see what would have happened if I hadn’t invented the thing, but I can. Do you understand?”
“Of course. You mean the background has to rest in the past experiences of the user.”
“You’re growing brilliant,” he scoffed. “Yes. The device will show ten hours of what would have happened if—condensed, of course, as in a movie, to half an hour’s actual time.”
“Say, that sounds interesting!”
“You’d like to see it? Is there anything you’d like to find out? Any choice you’d alter?”
“I’ll say—a thousand of ’em. I’d like to know what would have happened if I’d sold out my stocks in 2009 instead of ’10. I was a millionaire in my own right then, but I was a little—well, a little late in liquidating.”
“As usual,” remarked van Manderpootz. “Let’s go over to the laboratory then.”
The professor’s quarters were but a block from the campus. He ushered me into the Physics Building, and thence into his own research laboratory, much like the one I had visited during my courses under him. The device—he called it his “subjunctivisor,” since it operated in hypothetical worlds—occupied the entire center table. Most of it was merely a Horsten psychomat, but glittering crystalline and glassy was the prism of Iceland spar, the polarizing agent that was the heart of the instrument.
Van Manderpootz pointed to the headpiece. “Put it on,” he said, and I sat staring at the screen of the psychomat. I suppose everyone is familiar with the Horsten psychomat; it was as much a fad a few years ago as the ouija board a century back. Yet it isn’t just a toy; sometimes, much as the ouija board, it’s a real aid to memory. A maze of vague and colored shadows is caused to drift slowly across the screen, and one watches them, meanwhile visualizing whatever scene or circumstances he is trying to remember. He turns a knob that alters the arrangement of lights and shadows, and when, by chance, the design corresponds to his mental picture—presto! There is his scene recreated under his eyes. Of course his own mind adds the details. All the screen actually shows are these tinted blobs of light and shadow, but the thing can be amazingly real. I’ve seen occasions when I could have sworn the psychomat showed pictures almost as sharp and detailed as reality itself; the illusion is sometimes as startling as that.
Van Manderpootz switched on the light, and the play of shadows began. “Now recall the circumstances of, say, a half-year after the market crash. Turn the knob until the picture clears, then stop. At that point I direct the light of the subjunctivisor upon the screen, and you have nothing to do but watch.”
I did as directed. Momentary pictures formed and vanished. The inchoate sounds of the device hummed like distant voices, but without the added suggestion of the picture, they meant nothing. My own face flashed and dissolved and then, finally, I had it. There was a picture of myself sitting in an ill-defined room; that was all. I released the knob and gestured.
A click followed. The light dimmed, then brightened. The picture cleared, and amazingly, another figure emerged, a woman. I recognized her; it was Whimsy White, erstwhile star of television and premiere of the “Vision Varieties of ’09.” She was changed on that picture, but I recognized her.
I’ll say I did! I’d been trailing her all through the boom years of ’07 to ’10, trying to marry her, while old N. J. raved and ranted and threatened to leave everything to the Society for Rehabilitation of the Gobi Desert. I think those threats were what kept her from accepting me, but after I took my own money and ran it up to a couple of million in that crazy market of ’08 and ’09, she softened.
Temporarily, that is. When the crash of the spring of ’10 came and bounced me back on my father and into the firm of N. J. Wells, her favor dropped a dozen points to the market’s one. In February we were engaged, in April we were hardly speaking. In May they sold me out. I’d been late again.
And now, there she was on the psychomat screen, obviously plumping out, and not nearly so pretty as memory had pictured her. She was staring at me with an expression of enmity, and I was glaring back. The buzzes became voices.
“You nitwit!” she snapped. “You can’t bury me out here. I want to go back to New York, where there’s a little life. I’m bored with you and your golf.”
“And I’m bored with you and your whole dizzy crowd.”
“At least they’re alive. You’re a walking corpse. Just because you were lucky enough to gamble yourself into the money, you think you’re a tin god.”
“Well, I don’t think you’re Cleopatra! Those friends of yours—they trail after you because you give parties and spend money—my money.”
“Better than spending it to knock a white walnut along a mountainside!”
“Indeed? You ought to try it, Marie.” (That was her real name.) “It might help your figure—though I doubt if anything could!”
She glared in rage and—well, that was a painful half hour. I won’t give all the details, but I was glad when the screen dissolved into meaningless colored clouds.
“Whew!” I said, staring at van Manderpootz, who had been reading.
“You liked it?”
“Liked it! Say, I guess I was lucky to be cleaned out. I won’t regret it from now on.”
“That,” said the professor grandly, “is van Manderpootz’s great contribution to human happiness. ‘Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: It might have been!’ True no longer, my friend Dick. Van Manderpootz has shown that the proper reading is, ‘It might have been—worse!’ ”
It was very late when I returned home, and as a result, very late when I rose, and equally late when I got to the office. My father was unnecessarily worked up about it, but he exaggerated when he said I’d never been on time. He forgets the occasions when he’s awakened me and dragged me down with him. Nor was it necessary to refer so sarcastically to my missing the Baikal; I reminded him of the wrecking of the liner, and he responded very heartlessly that if I’d been aboard, the rocket would have been late, and so would have missed colliding with the British fruitship. It was likewise superfluous for him to mention that when he and I had tried to snatch a few weeks of golfing in the mountains, even the spring had been late. I had nothing to do with that.
“Dixon,” he concluded, “you have no conception whatever of time. None whatever.”
The conversation with van Manderpootz recurred to me. I was impelled to ask, “And have you, sir?”
“I have,” he said grimly. “I most assuredly have. Time,” he said oracularly, “is money.”
You can’t argue with a viewpoint like that.
But those aspersions of his rankled, especially that about the Baikal. Tardy I might be, but it was hardly conceivable that my presence aboard the rocket could have averted the catastrophe. It irritated me; in a way, it made me responsible for the deaths of those unrescued hundreds among the passengers and crew, and I didn’t like the thought.
Of course, if they’d waited an extra five minutes for me, or if I’d been on time and they’d left on schedule instead of five minutes late, or if—if!
If! The word called up van Manderpootz and his subjunctivisor—the worlds of “if,” the weird, unreal worlds that existed beside reality, neither past nor future, but contemporary, yet extemporal. Somewhere among their ghostly infinities existed one that represented the world that would have been had I made the liner. I had only to call up Haskel van Manderpootz, make an appointment, and then—find out.
Yet it wasn’t an easy decision. Suppose—just suppose that I found myself responsible—not legally responsible, certainly; there’d be no question of criminal negligence, or anything of that sort—not even morally responsible, because I couldn’t possibly have anticipated that my presence or absence could weigh so heavily in the scales of life and death, nor could I have known in which direction the scales would tip. Just—responsible; that was all. Yet I hated to find out.
I hated equally not finding out. Uncertainty has its pangs too, quite as painful as those of remorse. It might be less nerveracking to know myself responsible than to wonder, to waste thoughts in vain doubts and futile reproaches. So I seized the visiphone, dialed the number of the University, and at length gazed on the broad, humorous, intelligent features of van Manderpootz, dragged from a morning lecture by my call.
I was all but prompt for the appointment the following evening, and might actually have been on time but for an unreasonable traffic officer who insisted on booking me for speeding. At any rate, van Manderpootz was impressed.
“Well!” he rumbled. “I almost missed you, Dixon. I was just going over to the club, since I didn’t expect you for an hour. You’re only ten minutes late.”
I ignored this. “Professor, I want to use your—uh—your subjunctivisor.”
“Eh? Oh, yes. You’re lucky, then. I was just about to dismantle it.”
“Dismantle it! Why?”
“It has served its purpose. It has given birth to an idea far more important than itself. I shall need the space it occupies.”
“But what is the idea, if it’s not too presumptuous of me to ask?”
“It is not too presumptuous. You and the world which awaits it so eagerly may both know, but you hear it from the lips of the author. It is nothing less than the autobiography of van Manderpootz!” He paused impressively.
I gaped. “Your autobiography?”
“Yes. The world, though perhaps unaware, is crying for it. I shall detail my life, my work. I shall reveal myself as the man responsible for the three years’ duration of the Pacific War of 2004.”
“None other. Had I not been a loyal Netherlands subject at that time, and therefore neutral, the forces of Asia would have been crushed in three months instead of three years. The subjunctivisor tells me so; I would have invented a calculator to forecast the chances of every engagement; van Manderpootz would have removed the hit or miss element in the conduct of war.” He frowned solemnly. “There is my idea. The autobiography of van Manderpootz. What do you think of it?”
I recovered my thoughts. “It’s—uh—it’s colossal!” I said vehemently. “I’ll buy a copy myself. Several copies. I’ll send ’em to my friends.”
“I,” said van Manderpootz expansively, “shall autograph your copy for you. It will be priceless. I shall write in some fitting phrase, perhaps something like Magnificus sed non superbus. ‘Great but not proud!’ That well described van Manderpootz, who despite his greatness is simple, modest, and unassuming. Don’t you agree?”
“Perfectly! A very apt description of you. But—couldn’t I see your subjunctivisor before it’s dismantled to make way for the greater work?”
“Ah! You wish to find out something?”
“Yes, professor. Do you remember the Baikal disaster of a week or two ago? I was to have taken that liner to Moscow. I just missed it.” I related the circumstances.
“Humph!” he grunted. “You wish to discover what would have happened had you caught it, eh? Well, I see several possibilities. Among the world of ‘if’ is the one that would have been real if you had been on time, the one that depended on the vessel waiting for your actual arrival, and the one that hung on your arriving within the five minutes they actually waited. In which are you interested?”
“Oh—the last one.” That seemed the likeliest. After all, it was too much to expect that Dixon Wells could ever be on time, and as to the second possibility—well, they hadn’t waited for me, and that in a way removed the weight of responsibility.
“Come on,” rumbled van Manderpootz. I followed him across to the Physics Building and into his littered laboratory. The device still stood on the table and I took my place before it, staring at the screen of the Horsten psychomat. The clouds wavered and shifted as I sought to impress my memories on their suggestive shapes, to read into them some picture of that vanished morning.
Then I had it. I made out the vista from the Staten Bridge, and was speeding across the giant span toward the airport. I waved a signal to van Manderpootz, the thing clicked, and the subjunctivisor was on.
The grassless clay of the field appeared. It is a curious thing about the psychomat that you see only through the eyes of your image on the screen. It lends a strange reality to the working of the toy; I suppose a sort of self-hypnosis is partly responsible.
I was rushing over the ground toward the glittering, silver-winged projectile that was the Baikal. A glowering officer waved me on, and I dashed up the slant of the gangplank and into the ship; the port dropped and I heard a long “Whew!” of relief.
“Sit down!” barked the officer, gesturing toward an unoccupied seat. I fell into it; the ship quivered under the thrust of the catapult, grated harshly into motion, and then was flung bodily into the air. The blasts roared instantly, then settled to a more muffled throbbing, and I watched Staten Island drop down and slide back beneath me. The giant rocket was under way.
“Whew!” I breathed again. “Made it!” I caught an amused glance from my right. I was in an aisle seat; there was no one to my left, so I turned to the eyes that had flashed, glanced, and froze staring.
It was a girl. Perhaps she wasn’t actually as lovely as she looked to me; after all, I was seeing her through the half-visionary screen of a psychomat. I’ve told myself since that she couldn’t have been as pretty as she seemed, that it was due to my own imagination filling in the details. I don’t know; I remember only that I stared at curiously lovely silver-blue eyes and velvety brown hair, and a small amused mouth, and an impudent nose. I kept staring until she flushed.
“I’m sorry,” I said quickly. “I—was startled.”
There’s a friendly atmosphere aboard a transoceanic rocket. The passengers are forced into a crowded intimacy for anywhere from seven to twelve hours, and there isn’t much room for moving about. Generally, one strikes up an acquaintance with his neighbors; introductions aren’t at all necessary, and the custom is simply to speak to anybody you choose—something like an all-day trip on the railroad trains of the last century, I suppose. You make friends for the duration of the journey, and then, nine times out of ten, you never hear of your traveling companions again.
The girl smiled. “Are you the individual responsible for the delay in starting?”
I admitted it. “I seem to be chronically late. Even watches lose time as soon as I wear them.”
She laughed. “Your responsibilities can’t be very heavy.”
Well, they weren’t of course, though it’s surprising how many clubs, caddies, and chorus girls have depended on me at various times for appreciable portions of their incomes. But somehow I didn’t feel like mentioning those things to the silvery-eyed girl.
We talked. Her name, it developed, was Joanna Caldwell, and she was going as far as Paris. She was an artist, or hoped to be one day, and of course there is no place in the world that can supply both training and inspiration like Paris. So it was there she was bound for a year of study, and despite her demurely humorous lips and laughing eyes, I could see that the business was of vast importance to her. I gathered that she had worked hard for the year in Paris, had scraped and saved for three years as fashion illustrator for some woman’s magazine, though she couldn’t have been many months over twenty-one. Her painting meant a great deal to her, and I could understand it. I’d felt that way about polo once.
So you see, we were sympathetic spirits from the beginning. I knew that she liked me, and it was obvious that she didn’t connect Dixon Wells with the N. J. Wells Corporation. And as for me—well, after that first glance into her cool silver eyes, I simply didn’t care to look anywhere else. The hours seemed to drip away like minutes while I watched her.
You know how those things go. Suddenly I was calling her Joanna and she was calling me Dick, and it seemed as if we’d been doing just that all our lives. I’d decided to stop over in Paris on my way back from Moscow, and I’d secured her promise to let me see her. She was different, I tell you; she was nothing like the calculating Whimsy White, and still less like the dancing, simpering, giddy youngsters one meets around at social affairs. She was just Joanna, cool and humorous, yet sympathetic and serious, and as pretty as a Majolica figurine.
We could scarcely realize it when the steward passed along to take orders for luncheon. Four hours out? It seemed like forty minutes. And we had a pleasant feeling of intimacy in the discovery that both of us liked lobster salad and detested oysters. It was another bond; I told her whimsically that it was an omen, nor did she object to considering it so.
Afterwards we walked along the narrow aisle to the glassed-in observation room up forward. It was almost too crowded for entry, but we didn’t mind that at all, as it forced us to sit very close together. We stayed long after both of us had begun to notice the stuffiness of the air.
It was just after we had returned to our seats that the catastrophe occurred. There was no warning save a sudden lurch, the result, I suppose, of the pilot’s futile last-minute attempt to swerve—just that and then a grinding crash and a terrible sensation of spinning, and after that a chorus of shrieks that were like the sounds of battle.
It was battle. Five hundred people were picking themselves up from the floor, were trampling each other, milling around, being cast helplessly down as the great rocket-plane, its left wing but a broken stub, circled downward toward the Atlantic.
The shouts of officers sounded and a loudspeaker blared. “Be calm,” it kept repeating, and then, “There has been a collision. We have contacted a surface ship. There is no danger—There is no danger—”
I struggled up from the debris of shattered seats. Joanna was gone; just as I found her crumpled between the rows, the ship struck the water with a jar that set everything crashing again. The speaker blared, “Put on the cork belts under the seats. The lifebelts are under the seats.”
I dragged a belt loose and snapped it around Joanna, then donned one myself. The crowd was surging forward now, and the tail end of the ship began to drop. There was water behind us, sloshing in the darkness as the lights went out. An officer came sliding by, stooped, and fastened a belt about an unconscious woman ahead of us. “You all right?” he yelled, and passed on without waiting for an answer.
The speaker must have been cut on to a battery circuit. “And get as far away as possible,” it ordered suddenly. “Jump from the forward port and get as far away as possible. A ship is standing by. You will be picked up. Jump from the—” It went dead again.
I got Joanna untangled from the wreckage. She was pale; her silvery eyes were closed. I started dragging her slowly and painfully toward the forward port, and the slant of the floor increased until it was like the slide of a ski-jump. The officer passed again. “Can you handle her?” he asked, and again dashed away.
I was getting there. The crowd around the port looked smaller, or was it simply huddling closer? Then suddenly, a wail of fear and despair went up, and there was a roar of water. The observation room walls had given. I saw the green surge of waves, and a billowing deluge rushed down upon us. I had been late again.
That was all. I raised shocked and frightened eyes from the subjunctivisor to face van Manderpootz, who was scribbling on the edge of the table.
“Well?” he asked.
I shuddered. “Horrible!” I murmured. “We—I guess we wouldn’t have been among the survivors.”
“We, eh? We?” His eyes twinkled.
I did not enlighten him. I thanked him, bade him goodnight, and went dolorously home.
Even my father noticed something queer about me. The day I got to the office only five minutes late, he called me in for some anxious questioning as to my health. I couldn’t tell him anything, of course. How could I explain that I’d been late once too often, and had fallen in love with a girl two weeks after she was dead?
The thought drove me nearly crazy. Joanna! Joanna with her silvery eyes now lay somewhere at the bottom of the Atlantic. I went around half dazed, scarcely speaking. One night I actually lacked the energy to go home and sat smoking in my father’s big overstuffed chair in his private office until I finally dozed off. The next morning, when old N. J. entered and found me there before him, he turned pale as paper, staggered, and gasped, “My heart!” It took a lot of explaining to convince him that I wasn’t early at the office but just very late going home.
At last I felt that I couldn’t stand it. I had to do something—anything at all. I thought finally of the subjunctivisor. I could see—yes, I could see what would have transpired if the ship hadn’t been wrecked! I could trace out that weird, unreal romance hidden somewhere in the worlds of “if.” I could, perhaps, wring a somber, vicarious joy from the things that might have been. I could see Joanna once more!
It was late afternoon when I rushed over to van Manderpootz’s quarters. He wasn’t there; I encountered him finally in the hall of the Physics Building.
“Dick!” he exclaimed. “Are you sick?”
“Sick? No. Not physically. Professor. I’ve got to use your subjunctivisor again. I’ve got to!”
“Eh? Oh—that toy. You’re too late, Dick. I’ve dismantled it. I have a better use for the space.”
I gave a miserable groan and was tempted to damn the autobiography of the great van Manderpootz. A gleam of sympathy showed in his eyes, and he took my arm, dragging me into the little office adjoining his laboratory.
“Tell me,” he commanded.
I did. I guess I made the tragedy plain enough, for his heavy brows knit in a frown of pity. “Not even van Manderpootz can bring back the dead,” he murmured. “I’m sorry, Dick. Take your mind from the affair. Even were my subjunctivisor available, I wouldn’t permit you to use it. That would be but to turn the knife in the wound.” He paused. “Find something else to occupy your mind. Do as van Manderpootz does. Find forgetfulness in work.”
“Yes,” I responded dully. “But who’d want to read my autobiography? That’s all right for you.”
“Autobiography? Oh! I remember. No, I have abandoned that. History itself will record the life and works of van Manderpootz. Now I am engaged in a far grander project.”
“Indeed?” I was utterly, gloomily disinterested.
“Yes. Gogli has been here, Gogli the sculptor. He is to make a bust of me. What better legacy can I leave to the world than a bust of van Manderpootz, sculptured from life? Perhaps I shall present it to the city, perhaps to the university. I would have given it to the Royal Society if they had been a little more receptive, if they—if—if!” The last in a shout.
“If!” cried van Manderpootz. “What you saw in the subjunctivisor was what would have happened if you had caught the ship!”
“I know that.”
“But something quite different might really have happened! Don’t you see? She—she—Where are those old newspapers?”
He was pawing through a pile of them. He flourished one finally. “Here! Here are the survivors!”
Like letters of flame, Joanna Caldwell’s name leaped out at me. There was even a little paragraph about it, as I saw once my reeling brain permitted me to read:
“At least a score of survivors owe their lives to the bravery of twenty-eight-year-old Navigator Orris Hope, who patrolled both aisles during the panic, lacing lifebelts on the injured and helpless, and carrying many to the port. He remained on the sinking liner until the last, finally fighting his way to the surface through the broken walls of the observation room. Among those who owe their lives to the young officer are: Patrick Owensby, New York City; Mrs. Campbell Warren, Boston; Miss Joanna Caldwell, New York City—”
I suppose my shout of joy was heard over in the Administration Building, blocks away. I didn’t care; if van Manderpootz hadn’t been armored in stubby whiskers, I’d have kissed him. Perhaps I did anyway; I can’t be sure of my actions during those chaotic minutes in the professor’s tiny office.
At last I calmed. “I can look her up!” I gloated. “She must have landed with the other survivors, and they were all on that British tramp freighter the Osgood, that docked here last week. She must be in New York—and if she’s gone over to Paris, I’ll find out and follow her!”
Well, it’s a queer ending. She was in New York, but—you see, Dixon Wells had, so to speak, known Joanna Caldwell by means of the professor’s subjunctivisor, but Joanna had never known Dixon Wells. What the ending might have been if—if—But it wasn’t; she had married Orris Hope, the young officer who had rescued her. I was late again.
“This,” said the Franciscan, “is my Automaton, who at the proper time will speak, answer whatsoever question I may ask, and reveal all secret knowledge to me.” He smiled as he laid his hand affectionately on the iron skull that topped the pedestal.
The youth gazed open-mouthed, first at the head and then at the Friar. “But it’s iron!” he whispered. “The head is iron, good father.”
“Iron without, skill within, my son,” said Roger Bacon. “It will speak, at the proper time and in its own manner, for so have I made it. A clever man can twist the devil’s arts to God’s ends, thereby cheating the fiend—Sst! There sounds vespers! Plena gratia, ave Virgo—”
But it did not speak. Long hours, long weeks, the doctor mirabilis watched his creation, but iron lips were silent and the iron eyes dull, and no voice but the great man’s own sounded in his monkish cell, nor was there ever an answer to all the questions that he asked—until one day when he sat surveying his work, composing a letter to Duns Scotus in distant Cologne—one day—
“Time is!” said the image, and smiled benignly.
The Friar looked up. “Time is, indeed,” he echoed. “Time it is that you give utterance, and to some assertion less obvious than that time is. For of course time is, else there were nothing at all. Without time—”
“Time was!” rumbled the image, still smiling, but sternly at the statue of Draco.
“Indeed time was,” said the Monk. “Time was, is, and will be, for time is that medium in which events occur. Matter exists in space, but events—”
The image smiled no longer. “Time is past!” it roared in tones deep as the cathedral bell outside, and burst into ten thousand pieces.
“There,” said old Haskel van Manderpootz, shutting the book, “is my classical authority in this experiment. This story, overlaid as it is with medieval myth and legend, proves that Roger Bacon himself attempted the experiment—and failed.” He shook a long finger at me. “Yet do not get the impression, Dixon, that Friar Bacon was not a great man. He was—extremely great, in fact; he lighted the torch that his namesake Francis Bacon took up four centuries later, and that now van Manderpootz rekindles.”
I stared in silence.
“Indeed,” resumed the Professor, “Roger Bacon might almost be called a thirteenth century van Manderpootz, or van Manderpootz a twenty-first century Roger Bacon. His Opus Majus, Opus Minus, and Opus Tertium—”
“What,” I interrupted impatiently, “has all this to do with—that?” I indicated the clumsy metal robot standing in the corner of the laboratory.
“Don’t interrupt!” snapped van Manderpootz. “I’ll—”
At this point I fell out of my chair. The mass of metal had ejaculated something like “A-a-gh-rasp” and had lunged a single pace toward the window, arms upraised. “What the devil!” I sputtered as the thing dropped its arms and returned stolidly to its place.
“A car must have passed in the alley,” said van Manderpootz indifferently. “Now as I was saying, Roger Bacon—”
I ceased to listen. When van Manderpootz is determined to finish a statement, interruptions are worse than futile. As an ex-student of his, I know. So I permitted my thoughts to drift to certain personal problems of my own, particularly Tips Alva, who was the most pressing problem of the moment. Yes, I mean Tips Alva the ’vision dancer, the little blonde imp who entertains on the Yerba Mate Hour for that Brazilian company. Chorus girls, dancers, and television stars are a weakness of mine; maybe it indicates that there’s a latent artistic soul in me. Maybe.
I’m Dixon Wells, you know, scion of the N. J. Wells Corporation, Engineers Extraordinary. I’m supposed to be an engineer myself; I say supposed, because in the seven years since my graduation, my father hasn’t given me much opportunity to prove it. He has a strong sense of value of time, and I’m cursed with the unenviable quality of being late to anything and for everything. He even asserts that the occasional designs I submit are late Jacobean, but that isn’t fair. They’re Post-Romanesque.
Old N. J. also objects to my penchant for ladies of the stage and ’vision screen, and periodically threatens to cut my allowance, though that’s supposed to be a salary. It’s inconvenient to be so dependent, and sometimes I regret that unfortunate market crash of 2009 that wiped out my own money, although it did keep me from marrying Whimsy White, and van Manderpootz, through his subjunctivisor, succeeded in proving that that would have been a catastrophe. But it turned out nearly as much of a disaster anyway, as far as my feelings were concerned. It took me months to forget Joanna Caldwell and her silvery eyes. Just another instance when I was a little late.
Van Manderpootz himself is my old Physics Professor, head of the Department of Newer Physics at N.Y.U., and a genius, but a bit eccentric. Judge for yourself.
“And that’s the thesis,” he said suddenly, interrupting my thoughts.
“Eh? Oh, of course. But what’s that grinning robot got to do with it?”
He purpled. “I’ve just told you!” he roared. “Idiot! Imbecile! To dream while van Manderpootz talks! Get out! Get out!”
I got. It was late anyway, so late that I overslept more than usual in the morning, and suffered more than the usual lecture on promptness from my father at the office.
Van Manderpootz had forgotten his anger by the next time I dropped in for an evening. The robot still stood in the corner near the window, and I lost no time asking its purpose.
“It’s just a toy I had some of the students construct,” he explained. “There’s a screen of photoelectric cells behind the right eye, so connected that when a certain pattern is thrown on them, it activates the mechanism. The thing’s plugged into the light-circuit, but it really ought to run on gasoline.”
“Well, the pattern it’s set for is the shape of an automobile. See here.” He picked up a card from his desk, and cut in the outlines of a streamlined car like those of that year. “Since only one eye is used,” he continued, “The thing can’t tell the difference between a full-sized vehicle at a distance and this small outline nearby. It has no sense of perspective.”
He held the bit of cardboard before the eye of the mechanism. Instantly came its roar of “A-a-gh-rasp!” and it leaped forward a single pace, arms upraised. Van Manderpootz withdrew the card, and again the thing relapsed stolidly into its place.
“What the devil!” I exclaimed. “What’s it for?”
“Does van Manderpootz ever do work without reason back of it? I use it as a demonstration in my seminar.”
“To demonstrate what?”
“The power of reason,” said van Manderpootz solemnly.
“How? And why ought it to work on gasoline instead of electric power?”
“One question at a time, Dixon. You have missed the grandeur of van Manderpootz’s concept. See here, this creature, imperfect as it is, represents the predatory machine. It is the mechanical parallel of the tiger, lurking in its jungle to leap on living prey. This monster’s jungle is the city; its prey is the unwary machine that follows the trails called streets. Understand?”
“Well, picture this automaton, not as it is, but as van Manderpootz could make it if he wished. It lurks gigantic in the shadows of buildings; it creeps stealthily through dark alleys; it skulks on deserted streets, with its gasoline engine purring quietly. Then—an unsuspecting automobile flashes its image on the screen behind its eyes. It leaps. It seizes its prey, swinging it in steel arms to its steel jaws. Through the metal throat of its victim crash steel teeth; the blood of its prey—the gasoline, that is—is drained into its stomach, or its gas-tank. With renewed strength it flings away the husk and prowls on to seek other prey. It is the machine-carnivore, the tiger of mechanics.”
I suppose I stared dumbly. It occurred to me suddenly that the brain of the great van Manderpootz was cracking. “What the—?” I gasped.
“That,” he said blandly, “is but a concept. I have many another use for the toy. I can prove anything with it, anything I wish.”
“You can? Then prove something.”
“Name your proposition, Dixon.”
I hesitated, nonplussed.
“Come!” he said impatiently. “Look here; I will prove that anarchy is the ideal government, or that Heaven and Hell are the same place, or that—”
“Prove that!” I said. “About Heaven and Hell.”
“Easily. First we will endow my robot with intelligence. I add a mechanical memory by means of the old Cushman delayed valve; I add a mathematical sense with any of the calculating machines; I give it a voice and a vocabulary with the magnetic-impulse wire phonograph. Now the point I make is this: Granted an intelligent machine, does it not follow that every other machine constructed like it must have the identical qualities? Would not each robot given the same insides have exactly the same character?”
“No!” I snapped. “Human beings can’t make two machines exactly alike. There’d be tiny differences; one would react quicker than others, or one would prefer Fox Airsplitters as prey, while another reacted most vigorously to Carnecars. In other words, they’d have—individuality!” I grinned in triumph.
“My point exactly,” observed van Manderpootz. “You admit, then, that this individuality is the result of imperfect workmanship. If our means of manufacture were perfect, all robots would be identical, and this individuality would not exist. Is that true?”
“Then I argue that our own individuality is due to our falling short of perfection. All of us—even van Manderpootz—are individuals only because we are not perfect. Were we perfect, each of us would be exactly like everyone else. True?”
“But Heaven, by definition, is a place where all is perfect. Therefore, in Heaven everybody is exactly like everybody else, and therefore, everybody is thoroughly and completely bored! There is no torture like boredom, Dixon, and—Well, have I proved my point?”
I was floored. “But—about anarchy, then?” I stammered.
“Simple. Very simple for van Manderpootz. See here; with a perfect nation—that is, one whose individuals are all exactly alike, which I have just proved to constitute perfection—with a perfect nation, I repeat, laws and government are utterly superfluous. If everybody reacts to stimuli in the same way, laws are quite useless, obviously. If, for instance, a certain event occurred that might lead to a declaration of war, why, everybody in such a nation would vote for war at the same instant. Therefore government is unnecessary, and therefore anarchy is the ideal government, since it is the proper government for a perfect race.” He paused. “I shall now prove that anarchy is not the ideal government—”
“Never mind!” I begged. “Who am I to argue with van Manderpootz? But is that the whole purpose of this dizzy robot? Just a basis for logic?” The mechanism replied with its usual rasp as it leaped toward some vagrant car beyond the window.
“Isn’t that enough?” growled van Manderpootz. “However,”—his voice dropped—“I have even a greater destiny in mind. My boy, van Manderpootz has solved the riddle of the universe!” He paused impressively. “Well, why don’t you say something?”
“Uh!” I gasped. “It’s—uh—marvelous!”
“Not for van Manderpootz,” he said modestly.
“But—what is it?”
“Eh—Oh!” He frowned. “Well, I’ll tell you, Dixon. You won’t understand, but I’ll tell you.” He coughed. “As far back as the early twentieth century,” he resumed, “Einstein proved that energy is particular. Matter is also particular, and now van Manderpootz adds that space and time are discrete!” He glared at me.
“Energy and matter are particular,” I murmured, “and space and time are discrete! How very moral of them!”
“Imbecile!” he blazed. “To pun on the words of van Manderpootz! You know very well that I mean particular and discrete in the physical sense. Matter is composed of particles, therefore it is particular. The particles of matter are called electrons, protons, and neutrons, and those of energy, quanta. I now add two others, the particles of space I call spations, those of time, chronons.”
“And what in the devil,” I asked, “are particles of space and time?”
“Just what I said!” snapped van Manderpootz. “Exactly as the particles of matter are the smallest pieces of matter that can exist, just as there is no such thing as a half of an electron, or for that matter, half a quantum, so the chronon is the smallest possible fragment of time, and the spation the smallest possible bit of space. Neither time nor space is continuous; each is composed of these infinitely tiny fragments.”
“Well, how long is a chronon in time? How big is a spation in space?”
“Van Manderpootz has even measured that. A chronon is the length of time it takes one quantum of energy to push one electron from one electronic orbit to the next. There can obviously be no shorter interval of time, since an electron is the smallest unit of matter and the quantum the smallest unit of energy. And a spation is the exact volume of a proton. Since nothing smaller exists, that is obviously the smallest unit of space.”
“Well, look here,” I argued. “Then what’s in between these particles of space and time? If time moves, as you say, in jerks of one chronon each, what’s between the jerks?”
“Ah!” said the great van Manderpootz. “Now we come to the heart of the matter. In between the particles of space and time, must obviously be something that is neither space, time, matter, nor energy. A hundred years ago Shapley anticipated van Manderpootz in a vague way when he announced his cosmo-plasma, the great underlying matrix in which time and space and the universe are embedded. Now van Manderpootz announces the ultimate unit, the universal particle, the focus in which matter, energy, time, and space meet, the unit from which electrons, protons, neutrons, quanta, spations, and chronons are all constructed. The riddle of the universe is solved by what I have chosen to name the cosmon.” His blue eyes bored into me.
“Magnificent!” I said feebly, knowing that some such word was expected. “But what good is it?”
“What good is it?” he roared. “It provides—or will provide, once I work out a few details—the means of turning energy into time, or space into matter, or time into space, or—” He sputtered into silence. “Fool!” he muttered. “To think that you studied under the tutelage of van Manderpootz. I blush; I actually blush!”
One couldn’t have told it if he were blushing. His face was always rubicund enough. “Colossal!” I said hastily. “What a mind!”
That mollified him. “But that’s not all,” he proceeded. “Van Manderpootz never stops short of perfection. I now announce the unit particle of thought—the psychon!”
This was a little too much. I simply stared.
“Well may you be dumbfounded,” said van Manderpootz. “I presume you are aware, by hearsay at least, of the existence of thought. The psychon, the unit of thought, is one electron plus one proton, which are bound so as to form one neutron, embedded in one cosmon, occupying a volume of one spation, driven by one quantum for a period of one chronon. Very obvious; very simple.”
“Oh, very!” I echoed. “Even I can see that that equals one psychon.”
He beamed. “Excellent! Excellent!”
“And what,” I asked, “will you do with the psychons?”
“Ah,” he rumbled. “Now we go even past the heart of the matter, and return to Isaak here.” He jammed a thumb toward the robot. “Here I will create Roger Bacon’s mechanical head. In the skull of this clumsy creature will rest such intelligence as not even van Manderpootz—I should say, as only van Manderpootz—can conceive. It remains merely to construct my idealizator.”
“Of course. Have I not just proven that thoughts are as real as matter, energy, time, or space? Have I not just demonstrated that one can be transformed, through the cosmon, into any other? My idealizator is the means of transforming psychons to quanta, just as, for instance, a Crookes tube or X-ray tube transforms matter to electrons. I will make your thoughts visible! And not your thoughts as they are in that numb brain of yours, but in ideal form. Do you see? The psychons of your mind are the same as those from any other mind, just as all electrons are identical, whether from gold or iron. Yes! Your psychons”—his voice quavered—“are identical with those from the mind of—van Manderpootz!” He paused, shaken.
“Actually?” I gasped.
“Actually. Fewer in number, of course, but identical. Therefore, my idealizator shows your thought released from the impress of your personality. It shows it—ideal!”
Well, I was late to the office again.
A week later I thought of van Manderpootz. Tips was on tour somewhere, and I didn’t dare take anyone else out because I’d tried it once before and she’d heard about it. So, with nothing to do, I finally dropped around to the professor’s quarter, found him missing, and eventually located him in his laboratory at the Physics Building. He was puttering around the table that had once held that damned subjunctivisor of his, but now it supported an indescribable mess of tubes and tangled wires, and as its most striking feature, a circular plane mirror etched with a grating of delicately scratched lines.
“Good evening, Dixon,” he rumbled.
I echoed his greeting. “What’s that?” I asked.
“My idealizator. A rough model, much too clumsy to fit into Isaak’s iron skull. I’m just finishing it to try it out.” He turned glittering blue eyes on me. “How fortunate that you’re here. It will save the world a terrible risk.”
“Yes. It is obvious that too long an exposure to the device will extract too many psychons, and leave the subject’s mind in a sort of moronic condition. I was about to accept the risk, but I see now that it would be woefully unfair to the world to endanger the mind of van Manderpootz. But you are at hand, and will do very well.”
“Oh, no I won’t!”
“Come, come!” he said, frowning. “The danger is negligible. In fact, I doubt whether the device will be able to extract any psychons from your mind. At any rate, you will be perfectly safe for a period of at least half an hour. I, with a vastly more productive mind, could doubtless stand the strain indefinitely, but my responsibility to the world is too great to chance it until I have tested the machine on someone else. You should be proud of the honor.”
“Well, I’m not!” But my protest was feeble, and after all, despite his overbearing mannerisms, I knew van Manderpootz liked me, and I was positive he would not have exposed me to any real danger. In the end I found myself seated before the table facing the etched mirror.
“Put your face against the barrel,” said van Manderpootz, indicating a stovepipe-like tube. “That’s merely to cut off extraneous sights, so that you can see only the mirror. Go ahead, I tell you! It’s no more than the barrel of a telescope or microscope.”
I complied. “Now what?” I asked.
“What do you see?”
“My own face in the mirror.”
“Of course. Now I start the reflector rotating.” There was a faint whir, and the mirror was spinning smoothly, still with only a slightly blurred image of myself. “Listen, now,” continued van Manderpootz. “Here is what you are to do. You will think of a generic noun. ‘House,’ for instance. If you think of house, you will see, not an individual house, but your ideal house, the house of all your dreams and desires. If you think of a horse, you will see what your mind conceives as the perfect horse, such a horse as dream and longing create. Do you understand? Have you chosen a topic?”
“Yes.” After all, I was only twenty-eight; the noun I had chosen was—girl.
“Good,” said the professor. “I turn on the current.”
There was a blue radiance behind the mirror. My own face still stared back at me from the spinning surface, but something was forming behind it, building up, growing. I blinked; when I focused my eyes again, it was—she was—there.
Lord! I can’t begin to describe her. I don’t even know if I saw her clearly the first time. It was like looking into another world and seeing the embodiment of all longings, dreams, aspirations, and ideals. It was so poignant a sensation that it crossed the borderline into pain. It was—well, exquisite torture or agonized delight. It was at once unbearable and irresistible.
But I gazed. I had to. There was a haunting familiarity about the impossibly beautiful features. I had seen the face—somewhere—sometime. In dreams? No; I realized suddenly what was the source of that familiarity. This was no living woman, but a synthesis. Her nose was the tiny, impudent one of Whimsy White at her loveliest moment; her lips were the perfect bow of Tips Alva; her silvery eyes and dusky velvet hair were those of Joan Caldwell. But the aggregate, the sum total, the face in the mirror—that was none of these; it was a face impossibly, incredibly, outrageously beautiful.
Only her face and throat were visible, and the features were cool, expressionless, and still as a carving. I wandered suddenly if she could smile, and with the thought, she did. If she had been beautiful before, now her beauty flamed to such a pitch that it was—well, insolent; it was an affront to be so lovely; it was insulting. I felt a wild surge of anger that the image before me should flaunt such beauty, and yet be—nonexistent! It was deception, cheating, fraud, a promise that could never be fulfilled.
Anger died in the depths of that fascination. I wondered what the rest of her was like, and instantly she moved gracefully back until her full figure was visible. I must be a prude at heart, for she wasn’t wearing the usual cuirass-and-shorts of that year, but an iridescent four-paneled costume that all but concealed her dainty knees. But her form was slim and erect as a column of cigarette smoke in still air, and I knew that she could dance like a fragment of mist on water. And with that thought she did move, dropping in a low curtsy, and looking up with the faintest possible flush crimsoning the curve of her throat. Yes, I must be a prude at heart; despite Tips Alva and Whimsy White and the rest, my ideal was modest.
It was unbelievable that the mirror was simply giving back my thoughts. She seemed as real as myself, and—after all—I guess she was. As real as myself, no more, no less, because she was part of my own mind. And at this point I realized that van Manderpootz was shaking me and bellowing, “Your time’s up. Come out of it! Your half-hour’s up!”
He must have switched off the current. The image faded, and I took my face from the tube, dropping it on my arms.
“O-o-o-o-o-oh!” I groaned.
“How do you feel?” he snapped.
“Feel? All right—physically.” I looked up.
Concern flickered in his blue eyes. “What’s the cube root of 4,913?” he crackled sharply.
I’ve always been quick at figures. “It’s—uh—17,” I returned dully. “Why the devil—?”
“You’re all right mentally,” he announced. “Now—why were you sitting there like a dummy for half an hour? My idealizator must have worked, as is only natural for a van Manderpootz creation, but what were you thinking of?”
“I thought—I thought of ‘girl,’ ” I groaned.
He snorted. “Hah! You would, you idiot! ‘House’ or ‘horse’ wasn’t good enough; you had to pick something with emotional connotations. Well, you can start right in forgetting her, because she doesn’t exist.”
I couldn’t give up hope, as easily as that. “But can’t you—can’t you—?” I didn’t even know what I meant to ask.
“Van Manderpootz,” he announced, “is a mathematician, not a magician. Do you expect me to materialize an ideal for you?” When I had no reply but a groan, he continued. “Now I think it safe enough to try the device myself. I shall take—let’s see—the thought ‘man.’ I shall see what the superman looks like, since the ideal of van Manderpootz can be nothing less than superman.” He seated himself. “Turn that switch,” he said. “Now!”
I did. The tubes glowed into low blue light. I watched dully, disinterestedly; nothing held any attraction for me after that image of the ideal.
“Huh!” said van Manderpootz suddenly. “Turn it on, I say! I see nothing but my own reflection.”
I stared, then burst into a hollow laugh. The mirror was spinning; the banks of tubes were glowing; the device was operating.
Van Manderpootz raised his face, a little redder than usual. I laughed half hysterically. “After all,” he said huffily, “one might have a lower ideal of man than van Manderpootz. I see nothing nearly so humorous as your situation.”
The laughter died. I went miserably home, spent half the remainder of the night in morose contemplation, smoked nearly two packs of cigarettes, and didn’t get to the office at all the next day.
Tips Alva got back to town for a weekend broadcast, but I didn’t even bother to see her, just phoned her and told her I was sick. I guess my face lent credibility to the story, for she was duly sympathetic, and her face in the phone screen was quite anxious. Even at that, I couldn’t keep my eyes away from her lips because, except for a bit too lustrous makeup, they were the lips of the ideal. But they weren’t enough; they just weren’t enough.
Old N. J. began to worry again. I couldn’t sleep late of mornings any more, and after missing that one day, I kept getting down earlier and earlier until one morning I was only ten minutes late. He called me in at once.
“Look here, Dixon,” he said. “Have you been to a doctor recently?”
“I’m not sick,” I said listlessly.
“Then for Heaven’s sake, marry the girl! I don’t care what chorus she kicks in, marry her and act like a human being again.”
“Oh. She’s already married, eh?”
Well, I couldn’t tell him she didn’t exist. I couldn’t say I was in love with a vision, a dream, an ideal. He thought I was a little crazy, anyway, so I just muttered “Yeah,” and didn’t argue when he said gruffly: “Then you’ll get over it. Take a vacation. Take two vacations. You might as well for all the good you are around here.”
I didn’t leave New York; I lacked the energy. I just mooned around the city for a while, avoiding my friends, and dreaming of the impossible beauty of the face in the mirror. And by and by the longing to see that vision of perfection once more began to become overpowering. I don’t suppose anyone except me can understand the lure of that memory; the face, you see, had been my ideal, my concept of perfection. One sees beautiful women here and there in the world; one falls in love, but always, no matter how great their beauty or how deep one’s love, they fall short in some degree of the secret vision of the ideal. But not the mirrored face; she was my ideal, and therefore, whatever imperfections she might have had in the minds of others, in my eyes she had none. None, that is, save the terrible one of being only an ideal, and therefore unattainable—but that is a fault inherent in all perfection.
It was a matter of days before I yielded. Common sense told me it was futile, even foolhardy, to gaze again on the vision of perfect desirability. I fought against the hunger, but I fought hopelessly, and was not at all surprised to find myself one evening rapping on van Manderpootz’s door in the University Club. He wasn’t there; I’d been hoping he wouldn’t be, since it gave me an excuse to seek him in his laboratory in the Physics Building, to which I would have dragged him anyway.
There I found him, writing some sort of notations on the table that held the idealizator. “Hello, Dixon,” he said. “Did it ever occur to you that the ideal university cannot exist? Naturally not since it must be composed of perfect students and perfect educators, in which case the former could have nothing to learn and the latter, therefore, nothing to teach.”
What interest had I in the perfect university and its inability to exist? My whole being was desolate over the nonexistence of another ideal. “Professor,” I said tensely, “may I use that—that thing of yours again? I want to—uh—see something.”
My voice must have disclosed the situation, for van Manderpootz looked up sharply. “So!” he snapped. “So you disregarded my advice! Forget her, I said. Forget her because she doesn’t exist.”
“But—I can’t! Once more, Professor—only once more!”
He shrugged, but his blue, metallic eyes were a little softer than usual. After all, for some inconceivable reason, he likes me. “Well, Dixon,” he said, “you’re of age and supposed to be of mature intelligence. I tell you that this is a very stupid request, and van Manderpootz always knows what he’s talking about. If you want to stupefy yourself with the opium of impossible dreams, go ahead. This is the last chance you’ll have, for tomorrow the idealizator of van Manderpootz goes into the Bacon head of Isaak there. I shall shift the oscillators so that the psychons, instead of becoming light quanta, emerge as an electron flow—a current which will actuate Isaak’s vocal apparatus and come out as speech.” He paused musingly. “Van Manderpootz will hear the voice of the ideal. Of course Isaak can return only what psychons he receives from the brain of the operator, but just as the image in the mirror, the thoughts will have lost their human impress, and the words will be those of an ideal.” He perceived that I wasn’t listening, I suppose. “Go ahead, imbecile!” he grunted.
I did. The glory that I hungered after flamed slowly into being, incredible in loveliness, and somehow, unbelievably, even more beautiful than on that other occasion. I know why now; long afterwards, van Manderpootz explained that the very fact that I had seen an ideal once before had altered my ideal, raised it to a higher level. With that face among my memories, my concept of perfection was different than it had been.
So I gazed and hungered. Readily and instantly the being in the mirror responded to my thoughts with smile and movement. When I thought of love, her eyes blazed with such tenderness that it seemed as if—I—I, Dixon Wells—were part of those pairs who had made the great romances of the world, Heloise and Abelard, Tristram and Isolde, Aucassin and Nicolette. It was like the thrust of a dagger to feel van Manderpootz shaking me, to hear his gruff voice calling, “Out of it! Out of it! Time’s up.”
I groaned and dropped my face on my hands. The Professor had been right, of course; this insane repetition had only intensified an unfulfillable longing, and had made a bad mess ten times as bad. Then I heard him muttering behind me. “Strange!” he murmured. “In fact, fantastic. Oedipus—oedipus of the magazine covers and billboards.”
I looked dully around. He was standing behind me, squinting, apparently, into the spinning mirror beyond the end of the black tube. “Huh?” I grunted wearily.
“That face,” he said. “Very queer. You must have seen her features on a hundred magazines, on a thousand billboards, on countless ’vision broadcasts. The oedipus complex in a curious form.”
“Eh? Could you see her?”
“Of course!” he grunted. “Didn’t I say a dozen times that the psychons are transmuted to perfectly ordinary quanta of visible light? If you could see her, why not I?”
“But—what about billboards and all?”
“That face,” said the professor slowly. “It’s somewhat idealized, of course, and certain details are wrong. Her eyes aren’t that pallid silver-blue you imagined; they’re green—sea-green, emerald colored.”
“What the devil,” I asked hoarsely, “are you talking about?”
“About the face in the mirror. It happens to be, Dixon, a close approximation of the features of de Lisle d’Agrion, the Dragon Fly!”
“You mean—she’s real? She exists? She lives? She—”
“Wait a moment, Dixon. She’s real enough, but in accordance with your habit, you’re a little late. About twenty-five years too late, I should say. She must now be somewhere in the fifties—let’s see—fifty-three, I think. But during your very early childhood, you must have seen her face pictured everywhere, de Lisle d’Agrion, the Dragon Fly.”
I could only gulp. That blow was devastating.
“You see,” continued van Manderpootz, “one’s ideals are implanted very early. That’s why you continually fall in love with girls who possess one or another feature that reminds you of her, her hair, her nose, her mouth, her eyes. Very simple, but rather curious.”
“Curious!” I blazed. “Curious, you say! Everytime I look into one of your damned contraptions I find myself in love with a myth! A girl who’s dead, or married, or unreal, or turned into an old woman! Curious, eh? Damned funny, isn’t it?”
“Just a moment,” said the professor placidly. “It happens, Dixon, that she has a daughter. What’s more, Denise resembles her mother. And what’s still more, she’s arriving in New York next week to study American letters at the University here. She writes, you see.”
That was too much for immediate comprehension. “How—how do you know?” I gasped.
It was one of the few times I have seen the colossal blandness of van Manderpootz ruffled. He reddened a trifle, and said slowly, “It also happens, Dixon, that many years ago in Amsterdam, Haskel van Manderpootz and de Lisle d’Agrion were—very friendly—more than friendly, I might say, but for the fact that two such powerful personalities as the Dragon Fly and van Manderpootz were always at odds.” He frowned. “I was almost her second husband. She’s had seven, I believe; Denise is the daughter of her third.”
“Why—why is she coming here?”
“Because,” he said with dignity, “van Manderpootz is here. I am still a friend of de Lisle’s.” He turned and bent over the complex device on the table. “Hand me that wrench,” he ordered. “Tonight I dismantle this, and tomorrow start reconstructing it for Isaak’s head.”
But when, the following week, I rushed eagerly back to van Manderpootz’s laboratory, the idealizator was still in place. The professor greeted me with a humorous twist to what was visible of his bearded mouth. “Yes, it’s still here,” he said, gesturing at the device. “I’ve decided to build an entirely new one for Isaak, and besides, this one has afforded me considerable amusement. Furthermore, in the words of Oscar Wilde, who am I to tamper with a work of genius. After all, the mechanism is the product of the great van Manderpootz.”
He was deliberately tantalizing me. He knew that I hadn’t come to hear him discourse on Isaak, or even on the incomparable van Manderpootz. Then he smiled and softened, and turned to the little inner office adjacent, the room where Isaak stood in metal austerity. “Denise!” he called, “come here.”
I don’t know exactly what I expected, but I do know that the breath left me as the girl entered. She wasn’t exactly my image of the ideal, of course; she was perhaps the merest trifle slimmer, and her eyes—well, they must have been much like those of de Lisle d’Agrion, for they were the clearest emerald I’ve ever seen. They were impudently direct eyes, and I could imagine why van Manderpootz and the Dragon Fly might have been forever quarreling; that was easy to imagine, looking into the eyes of the Dragon Fly’s daughter.
Nor was Denise, apparently, quite as femininely modest as my image of perfection. She wore the extremely unconcealing costume of the day, which covered, I suppose, about as much of her as one of the one-piece swimming suits of the middle years of the twentieth century. She gave an impression, not so much of fleeting grace as of litheness and supple strength, an air of independence, frankness, and—I say it again—impudence.
“Well!” she said coolly as van Manderpootz presented me. “So you’re the scion of the N. J. Wells Corporation. Every now and then your escapades enliven the Paris Sunday supplements. Wasn’t it you who snared a million dollars in the market so you could ask Whimsy White—?”
I flushed. “That was greatly exaggerated,” I said hastily, “and anyway I lost it before we—uh—before I—”
“Not before you made somewhat of a fool of yourself, I believe,” she finished sweetly.
Well, that’s the sort she was. If she hadn’t been so infernally lovely, if she hadn’t looked so much like the face in the mirror, I’d have flared up, said “Pleased to have met you,” and never have seen her again. But I couldn’t get angry, not when she had the dusky hair, the perfect lips, the saucy nose of the being who to me was ideal.
So I did see her again, and several times again. In fact, I suppose I occupied most of her time between the few literary courses she was taking, and little by little I began to see that in other respects besides the physical she was not so far from my ideal. Beneath her impudence was honesty, and frankness, and, despite herself, sweetness, so that even allowing for the head-start I’d had, I fell in love pretty hastily. And what’s more, I knew she was beginning to reciprocate.
That was the situation when I called for her one noon and took her over to van Manderpootz’s laboratory. We were to lunch with him at the University Club, but we found him occupied in directing some experiment in the big laboratory beyond his personal one, untangling some sort of mess that his staff had blundered into. So Denise and I wandered back into the smaller room, perfectly content to be alone together. I simply couldn’t feel hungry in her presence; just talking to her was enough of a substitute for food.
“I’m going to be a good writer,” she was saying musingly. “Some day, Dick, I’m going to be famous.”
Well, everyone knows how correct that prediction was. I agreed with her instantly.
She smiled. “You’re nice, Dick,” she said. “Very nice.”
“Very!” she said emphatically. Then her green eyes strayed over to the table that held the idealizator. “What crackbrained contraption of Uncle Haskel’s is that?” she asked.
I explained, rather inaccurately, I’m afraid, but no ordinary engineer can follow the ramifications of a van Manderpootz conception. Nevertheless, Denise caught the gist of it and her eyes glowed emerald fire.
“It’s fascinating!” she exclaimed. She rose and moved over to the table. “I’m going to try it.”
“Not without the professor, you won’t! It might be dangerous.”
That was the wrong thing to say. The green eyes glowed brighter as she cast me a whimsical glance. “But I am,” she said. “Dick, I’m going to—see my ideal man!” She laughed softly.
I was panicky. Suppose her ideal turned out tall and dark and powerful, instead of short and sandy-haired and a bit—well, chubby, as I am. “No!” I said vehemently. “I won’t let you!”
She laughed again. I suppose she read my consternation, for she said softly, “Don’t be silly, Dick.” She sat down, placed her face against the opening of the barrel, and commanded. “Turn it on.”
I couldn’t refuse her. I set the mirror whirling, then switched on the bank of tubes. Then immediately I stepped behind her, squinting into what was visible of the flashing mirror, where a face was forming, slowly—vaguely.
I thrilled. Surely the hair of the image was sandy. I even fancied now that I could trace a resemblance to my own features. Perhaps Denise sensed something similar, for she suddenly withdrew her eyes from the tube and looked up with a faintly embarrassed flush, a thing most unusual for her.
“Ideals are dull!” she said. “I want a real thrill. Do you know what I’m going to see? I’m going to visualize ideal horror. That’s what I’ll do. I’m going to see absolute horror!”
“Oh, no you’re not!” I gasped. “That’s a terribly dangerous idea.” Off in the other room I heard the voice of van Manderpootz, “Dixon!”
“Dangerous—bosh!” Denise retorted. “I’m a writer, Dick. All this means to me is material. It’s just experience, and I want it.”
Van Manderpootz again. “Dixon! Dixon! Come here.” I said, “Listen, Denise. I’ll be right back. Don’t try anything until I’m here—please!”
I dashed into the big laboratory. Van Manderpootz was facing a cowed group of assistants, quite apparently in extreme awe of the great man.
“Hah, Dixon!” he rasped. “Tell these fools what an Emmerich valve is, and why it won’t operate in a free electronic stream. Let ’em see that even an ordinary engineer knows that much.”
Well, an ordinary engineer doesn’t, but it happened that I did. Not that I’m particularly exceptional as an engineer, but I did happen to know that because a year or two before I’d done some work on the big tidal turbines up in Maine, where they have to use Emmerich valves to guard against electrical leakage from the tremendous potentials in their condensers. So I started explaining, and van Manderpootz kept interpolating sarcasms about his staff, and when I finally finished, I suppose I’d been in there about half an hour. And then—I remembered Denise!
I left van Manderpootz staring as I rushed back, and sure enough, there was the girl with her face pressed against the barrel, and her hands gripping the table edge. Her features were hidden, of course, but there was something about her strained position, her white knuckles—
“Denise!” I yelled. “Are you all right? Denise!”
She didn’t move. I stuck my face in between the mirror and the end of the barrel and peered up the tube at her visage, and what I saw left me all but stunned. Have you ever seen stark, mad, infinite terror on a human face? That was what I saw in Denise’s—inexpressible, unbearable horror, worse than the fear of death could ever be. Her green eyes were widened so that the whites showed around them; her perfect lips were contorted, her whole face strained into a mask of sheer terror.
I rushed for the switch, but in passing I caught a single glimpse of—of what showed in the mirror. Incredible! Obscene, terror-laden, horrifying things—there just aren’t words for them. There are no words.
Denise didn’t move as the tubes darkened. I raised her face from the barrel and when she glimpsed me she moved. She flung herself out of that chair and away, facing me with such mad terror that I halted.
“Denise!” I cried. “It’s just Dick. Look, Denise!”
But as I moved toward her, she uttered a choking scream, her eyes dulled, her knees gave, and she fainted. Whatever she had seen, it must have been appalling to the uttermost, for Denise was not the sort to faint.
It was a week later that I sat facing van Manderpootz in his little inner office. The grey metal figure of Isaak was missing, and the table that had held the idealizator was empty.
“Yes,” said van Manderpootz. “I’ve dismantled it. One of van Manderpootz’s few mistakes was to leave it around where a pair of incompetents like you and Denise could get to it. It seems that I continually overestimate the intelligence of others. I suppose I tend to judge them by the brain of van Manderpootz.”
I said nothing. I was thoroughly disheartened and depressed, and whatever the professor said about my lack of intelligence, I felt it justified.
“Hereafter,” resumed van Manderpootz, “I shall credit nobody except myself with intelligence, and will doubtless be much more nearly correct.” He waved a hand at Isaak’s vacant corner. “Not even the Bacon head,” he continued. “I’ve abandoned that project, because, when you come right down to it, what need has the world of a mechanical brain when it already has that of van Manderpootz?”
“Professor,” I burst out suddenly, “why won’t they let me see Denise? I’ve been at the hospital every day, and they let me into her room just once—just once, and that time she went right into a fit of hysterics. Why? Is she—?” I gulped.
“She’s recovering nicely, Dixon.”
“Then why can’t I see her?”
“Well,” said van Manderpootz placidly, “it’s like this. You see, when you rushed into the laboratory there, you made the mistake of pushing your face in front of the barrel. She saw your features right in the midst of all those horrors she had called up. Do you see? From then on your face was associated in her mind with the whole hell’s brew in the mirror. She can’t even look at you without seeing all of it again.”
“Good—God!” I gasped. “But she’ll get over it, won’t she? She’ll forget that part of it?”
“The young psychiatrist who attends her—a bright chap, by the way, with a number of my own ideas—believes she’ll be quite over it in a couple of months. But personally, Dixon, I don’t think she’ll ever welcome the sight of your face, though I myself have seen uglier visages somewhere or other.”
I ignored that. “Lord!” I groaned. “What a mess!” I rose to depart, and then—then I knew what inspiration means!
“Listen!” I said, spinning back. “Listen, professor! Why can’t you get her back here and let her visualize the ideally beautiful? And then I’ll—I’ll stick my face into that!” Enthusiasm grew. “It can’t fail!” I cried. “At the worst, it’ll cancel that other memory. It’s marvelous!”
“But as usual,” said van Manderpootz, “a little late.”
“Late? Why? You can put up your idealizator again. You’d do that much, wouldn’t you?”
“Van Manderpootz,” he observed, “is the very soul of generosity. I’d do it gladly, but it’s still a little late, Dixon. You see, she married the bright young psychiatrist this noon.”
Well, I’ve a date with Tips Alva tonight, and I’m going to be late for it, just as late as I please. And then I’m going to do nothing but stare at her lips all evening.
The Point of View
“I am too modest!” snapped the great Haskel van Manderpootz, pacing irritably about the limited area of his private laboratory, glaring at me the while. “That is the trouble. I undervalue my own achievements, and thereby permit petty imitators like Corveille to influence the committee and win the Morell prize.”
“But,” I said soothingly, “you’ve won the Morell physics award half a dozen times, professor. They can’t very well give it to you every year.”
“Why not, since it is plain that I deserve it?” bristled the professor. “Understand, Dixon, that I do not regret my modesty, even though it permits conceited fools like Corveille, who have infinitely less reason than I for conceit, to win awards that mean nothing save prizes for successful bragging. Bah! To grant an award for research along such obvious lines that I neglected to mention them, thinking that even a Morell judge would appreciate their obviousness! Research on the psychon, eh! Who discovered the psychon? Who but van Manderpootz?”
“Wasn’t that what you got last year’s award for?” I asked consolingly. “And after all, isn’t this modesty, this lack of jealousy on your part, a symbol of greatness of character?”
“True—true!” said the great van Manderpootz, mollified. “Had such an affront been committed against a lesser man than myself, he would doubtless have entered a bitter complaint against the judges. But not I. Anyway, I know from experience that it wouldn’t do any good. And besides, despite his greatness, van Manderpootz is as modest and shrinking as a violet.” At this point he paused, and his broad red face tried to look violet-like.
I suppressed a smile. I knew the eccentric genius of old, from the days when I had been Dixon Wells, undergraduate student of engineering, and had taken a course in Newer Physics (that is, in Relativity) under the famous professor. For some unguessable reason, he had taken a fancy to me, and as a result, I had been involved in several of his experiments since graduation. There was the affair of the subjunctivisor, for instance, and also that of the idealizator; in the first of these episodes I had suffered the indignity of falling in love with a girl two weeks after she was apparently dead, and in the second, the equal or greater indignity of falling in love with a girl who didn’t exist, never had existed, and never would exist—in other words, with an ideal. Perhaps I’m a little susceptible to feminine charms, or rather, perhaps I used to be, for since the disaster of the idealizator, I have grimly relegated such follies to the past, much to the disgust of various ’vision entertainers, singers, dancers, and the like.
So of late I had been spending my days very seriously, trying wholeheartedly to get to the office on time just once, so that I could refer to it next time my father accused me of never getting anywhere on time. I hadn’t succeeded yet, but fortunately the N. J. Wells Corporation was wealthy enough to survive even without the full-time services of Dixon Wells, or should I say even with them? Anyway, I’m sure my father preferred to have me late in the morning after an evening with van Manderpootz than after one with Tips Alva or Whimsy White, or one of the numerous others of the ladies of the ’vision screen. Even in the twenty-first century, he retained a lot of old-fashioned ideas.
Van Manderpootz had ceased to remember that he was as modest and shrinking as a violet. “It has just occurred to me,” he announced impressively, “that years have character much as humans have. This year, 2015, will be remembered in history as a very stupid year, in which the Morell prize was given to a nincompoop. Last year, on the other hand, was a very intelligent year, a jewel in the crown of civilization. Not only was the Morell prize given to van Manderpootz, but I announced my discrete field theory in that year, and the University unveiled Gogli’s statue of me as well.” He sighed. “Yes, a very intelligent year! What do you think?”
“It depends on how you look at it,” I responded glumly. “I didn’t enjoy it so much, what with Joanna Caldwell and Denise d’Agrion, and your infernal experiments. It’s all in the point of view.”
The professor snorted. “Infernal experiments, eh! Point of view! Of course it’s all in the point of view. Even Einstein’s simple little synthesis was enough to prove that. If the whole world could adopt an intelligent and admirable point of view—that of van Manderpootz, for instance—all troubles would be over. If it were possible—” He paused, and an expression of amazed wonder spread over his ruddy face.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“Matter? I am astonished! The astounding depths of genius awe me. I am overwhelmed with admiration at the incalculable mysteries of a great mind.”
“I don’t get the drift.”
“Dixon,” he said impressively, “you have been privileged to look upon an example of the workings of a genius. More than that, you have planted the seed from which perhaps shall grow the towering tree of thought. Incredible as it seems, you, Dixon Wells, have given van Manderpootz an idea! It is thus that genius seizes upon the small, the unimportant, the negligible, and turns it to its own grand purposes. I stand awestruck!”
“Wait,” said van Manderpootz, still in rapt admiration of the majesty of his own mind. “When the tree bears fruit, you shall see it. Until then, be satisfied that you have played a part in its planting.”
It was perhaps a month before I saw van Manderpootz again, but one bright spring evening his broad, rubicund face looked out of the phone-screen at me.
“It’s ready,” he announced impressively.
The professor looked pained at the thought that I could have forgotten. “The tree has borne fruit,” he explained. “If you wish to drop over to my quarters, we’ll proceed to the laboratory and try it out. I do not set a time, so that it will be utterly impossible for you to be late.”
I ignored that last dig, but had a time been set, I would doubtless have been even later than usual, for it was with some misgivings that I induced myself to go at all. I still remembered the unpleasantness of my last two experiences with the inventions of van Manderpootz. However, at last we were seated in the small laboratory, while out in the larger one the professor’s technical assistant, Carter, puttered over some device, and in the far corner his secretary, the plain and unattractive Miss Fitch, transcribed lecture notes, for van Manderpootz abhorred the thought that his golden utterances might be lost to posterity. On the table between the professor and myself lay a curious device, something that looked like a cross between a pair of nose-glasses and a miner’s lamp.
“There it is,” said van Manderpootz proudly. “There lies my attitudinizor, which may well become an epoch-making device.”
“How? What does it do?”
“I will explain. The germ of the idea traces back to that remark of yours about everything depending on the point of view. A very obvious statement, of course, but genius seizes on the obvious and draws from it the obscure. Thus the thoughts of even the simplest mind can suggest to the man of genius his sublime conceptions, as is evident from the fact that I got this idea from you.”
“Be patient. There is much you must understand first. You must realize just how true is the statement that everything depends on the point of view. Einstein proved that motion, space, and time depend on the particular point of view of the observer, or as he expressed it, on the scale of reference used. I go farther than that, infinitely farther. I propound the theory that the observer is the point of view. I go even beyond that, I maintain that the world itself is merely the point of view!”
“Look here,” proceeded van Manderpootz. “It is obvious that the world I see is entirely different from the one in which you live. It is equally obvious that a strictly religious man occupies a different world than that of a materialist. The fortunate man lives in a happy world; the unfortunate man sees a world of misery. One man is happy with little, another is miserable with much. Each sees the world from his own point of view, which is the same as saying that each lives in his own world. Therefore there are as many worlds as there are points of view.”
“But,” I objected, “that theory is to disregard reality. Out of all the different points of view, there must be one that is right, and all the rest are wrong.”
“One would think so,” agreed the professor. “One would think that between the point of view of you, for instance, as contrasted with that of, say van Manderpootz, there would be small doubt as to which was correct. However, early in the twentieth century, Heisenberg enunciated his Principle of Uncertainty, which proved beyond argument that a completely accurate scientific picture of the world is quite impossible, that the law of cause and effect is merely a phase of the law of chance, that no infallible predictions can ever be made, and that what science used to call natural laws are really only descriptions of the way in which the human mind perceives nature. In other words, the character of the world depends entirely on the mind observing it, or, to return to my earlier statement, the point of view.”
“But no one can ever really understand another person’s point of view,” I said. “It isn’t fair to undermine the whole basis of science because you can’t be sure that the color we both call red wouldn’t look green to you if you could see it through my eyes.”
“Ah!” said van Manderpootz triumphantly. “So we come now to my attitudinizor. Suppose that it were possible for me to see through your eyes, or you through mine. Do you see what a boon such an ability would be to humanity? Not only from the standpoint of science, but also because it would obviate all troubles due to misunderstandings. And even more.” Shaking his finger, the professor recited oracularly, “ ‘Oh, wad some pow’r the giftie gie us to see oursel’s as ithers see us.’ Van Manderpootz is that power, Dixon. Through my attitudinizor, one may at last adopt the viewpoint of another. The poet’s plaint of more than two centuries ago is answered at last.”
“How the devil do you see through somebody else’s eyes?”
“Very simply. You will recall the idealizator. Now it is obvious that when I peered over your shoulder and perceived in the mirror your conception of the ideal woman, I was, to a certain extent, adopting your point of view. In that case the psychons given off by your mind were converted into quanta of visible light, which could be seen. In the case of my attitudinizor, the process is exactly reversed. One flashes the beam of this light on the subject whose point of view is desired; the visible light is reflected back with a certain accompaniment of psychons, which are here intensified to a degree which will permit them to be, so to speak, appreciated?”
“Have you already forgotten my discovery of the unit particle of thought? Must I explain again how the cosmons, chronons, spations, psychons, and all other particles are interchangeable? And that,” he continued abstractedly, “leads to certain interesting speculations. Suppose I were to convert, say, a ton of material protons and electrons into spations—that is, convert matter into space. I calculate that a ton of matter will produce approximately a cubic mile of space. Now the question is, where would we put it, since all the space we have is already occupied by space? Or if I manufactured an hour or two of time? It is obvious that we have no time to fit in an extra couple of hours, since all our time is already accounted for. Doubtless it will take a certain amount of thought for even van Manderpootz to solve these problems, but at the moment I am curious to watch the workings of the attitudinizor. Suppose you put it on, Dixon.”
“I? Haven’t you tried it out yet?”
“Of course not. In the first place, what has van Manderpootz to gain by studying the viewpoints of other people? The object of the device is to permit people to study nobler viewpoints than their own. And in the second place, I have asked myself whether it is fair to the world for van Manderpootz to be the first to try out a new and possibly untrustworthy device, and I reply, ‘No!’ ”
“But I should try it out, eh? Well, everytime I try out any of your inventions I find myself in some kind of trouble. I’d be a fool to go around looking for more difficulty, wouldn’t I?”
“I assure you that my viewpoint will be much less apt to get you into trouble than your own,” said van Manderpootz with dignity. “There will be no question of your becoming involved in some impossible love affair as long as you stick to that.”
Nevertheless, despite the assurance of the great scientist, I was more than a little reluctant to don the device. Yet I was curious, as well; it seemed a fascinating prospect to be able to look at the world through other eyes, as fascinating as visiting a new world—which it was, according to the professor. So after a few moments of hesitation, I picked up the instrument, slipped it over my head so that the eyeglasses were in the proper position, and looked inquiringly at van Manderpootz.
“You must turn it on,” he said, reaching over and clicking a switch on the frame. “Now flash the light to my face. That’s the way; just center the circle of light on my face. And now what do you see?”
I didn’t answer; what I saw was, for the moment, quite indescribable. I was completely dazed and bewildered, and it was only when some involuntary movement of my head at last flashed the light from the professor’s face to the table top that a measure of sanity returned, which proves at least that tables do not possess any point of view.
“O-o-o-h!” I gasped.
Van Manderpootz beamed. “Of course you are overwhelmed. One could hardly expect to adopt the view of van Manderpootz without some difficulties of adjustment. A second time will be easier.”
I reached up and switched off the light. “A second time will not only be easier, but also impossible,” I said crossly. “I’m not going to experience another dizzy spell like that for anybody.”
“But of course you will, Dixon. I am certain that the dizziness will be negligible on the second trial. Naturally the unexpected heights affected you, much as if you were to come without warning to the brink of a colossal precipice. But this time you will be prepared, and the effect will be much less.”
Well, it was. After a few moments I was able to give my full attention to the phenomena of the attitudinizor, and queer phenomena they were, too. I scarcely know how to describe the sensation of looking at the world through the filter of another’s mind. It is almost an indescribable experience, but so, in the ultimate analysis, is any other experience.
What I saw first was a kaleidoscopic array of colors and shapes, but the amazing, astounding, inconceivable thing about the scene was that there was no single color I could recognize! The eyes of van Manderpootz, or perhaps his brain, interpreted color in a fashion utterly alien to the way in which my own functioned, and the resultant spectrum was so bizarre that there is simply no way of describing any single tint in words. To say, as I did to the professor, that his conception of red looked to me like a shade between purple and green conveys absolutely no meaning, and the only way a third person could appreciate the meaning would be to examine my point of view through an attitudinizor while I was examining that of van Manderpootz. Thus he could apprehend my conception of van Manderpootz’s reaction to the color red.
And shapes! It took me several minutes to identify the weird, angular, twisted, distorted appearance in the center of the room as the plain laboratory table. The room itself, aside from its queer form, looked smaller, perhaps because van Manderpootz is somewhat larger than I.
But by far the strangest part of his point of view had nothing to do with the outlook upon the physical world, but with the more fundamental elements—with his attitudes. Most of his thoughts, on that first occasion, were beyond me, because I had not yet learned to interpret the personal symbolism in which he thought. But I did understand his attitudes. There was Carter, for instance, toiling away out in the large laboratory; I saw at once what a plodding, unintelligent drudge he seemed to van Manderpootz. And there was Miss Fitch; I confess that she had always seemed unattractive to me, but my impression of her was Venus herself beside that of the professor! She hardly seemed human to him and I am sure that he never thought of her as a woman, but merely as a piece of convenient but unimportant laboratory equipment.
At this point I caught a glimpse of myself through the eyes of van Manderpootz. Ouch! Perhaps I’m not a genius, but I’m dead certain that I’m not the grinning ape I appeared to be in his eyes. And perhaps I’m not exactly the handsomest man in the world either, but if I thought I looked like that—! And then, to cap the climax, I apprehended van Manderpootz’s conception of himself!
“That’s enough!” I yelled. “I won’t stay around here just to be insulted. I’m through!”
I tore the attitudinizor from my head and tossed it to the table, feeling suddenly a little foolish at the sight of the grin on the face of the professor.
“That is hardly the spirit which has led science to its great achievements, Dixon,” he observed amiably. “Suppose you describe the nature of the insults, and if possible, something about the workings of the attitudinizor as well. After all, that is what you were supposed to be observing.”
I flushed, grumbled a little, and complied. Van Manderpootz listened with great interest to my description of the difference in our physical worlds, especially the variations in our perceptions of form and color.
“What a field for an artist!” he ejaculated at last. “Unfortunately, it is a field that must remain forever untapped, because even though an artist examined a thousand viewpoints and learned innumerable new colors, his pigments would continue to impress his audience with the same old colors each of them had always known.” He sighed thoughtfully, and then proceeded. “However, the device is apparently quite safe to use. I shall therefore try it briefly, bringing to the investigation a calm, scientific mind which refuses to be troubled by the trifles that seem to bother you.”
He donned the attitudinizor, and I must confess that he stood the shock of the first trial somewhat better than I did. After a surprised “Oof!” he settled down to a complacent analysis of my point of view, while I sat somewhat self-consciously under his calm appraisal. Calm, that is, for about three minutes.
Suddenly he leaped to his feet, tearing the device from a face whose normal ruddiness had deepened to a choleric angry color. “Get out!” he roared. “So that’s the way van Manderpootz looks to you! Moron! Idiot! Imbecile! Get out!”
It was a week or ten days later that I happened to be passing the University on my way from somewhere to somewhere else, and I fell to wondering whether the professor had yet forgiven me. There was a light in the window of his laboratory over in the Physics Building, so I dropped in, making my way past the desk where Carter labored, and the corner where Miss Fitch sat in dull primness at her endless task of transcribing lecture notes.
Van Manderpootz greeted me cordially enough, but with a curious assumption of melancholy in his manner. “Ah, Dixon,” he began, “I am glad to see you. Since our last meeting, I have learned much of the stupidity of the world, and it appears to me now that you are actually one of the more intelligent contemporary minds.”
This from van Manderpootz! “Why—thank you,” I said.
“It is true. For some days I have sat at the window overlooking the street there, and have observed the viewpoints of the passersby. Would you believe”—his voice lowered—“would you believe that only seven and four-tenths percent are even aware of the existence of van Manderpootz? And doubtless many of the few that are, come from among the students in the neighborhood. I knew that the average level of intelligence was low, but it had not occurred to me that it was as low as that.”
“After all,” I said consolingly, “you must remember that the achievements of van Manderpootz are such as to attract the attention of the intelligent few rather than of the many.”
“A very silly paradox!” he snapped. “On the basis of that theory, since the higher one goes in the scale of intelligence, the fewer individuals one finds, the greatest achievement of all is one that nobody has heard of. By that test you would be greater than van Manderpootz, an obvious reductio ad absurdum.”
He glared his reproof that I should even have thought of the point, then something in the outer laboratory caught his ever-observant eye.
“Carter!” he roared. “Is that a synobasical interphasometer in the positronic flow? Fool! What sort of measurements do you expect to make when your measuring instrument itself is part of the experiment? Take it out and start over!”
He rushed away toward the unfortunate technician. I settled idly back in my chair and stared about the small laboratory, whose walls had seen so many marvels. The latest, the attitudinizor, lay carelessly on the table, dropped there by the professor after his analysis of the mass viewpoint of the pedestrians in the street below.
I picked up the device and fell to examining its construction. Of course this was utterly beyond me, for no ordinary engineer can hope to grasp the intricacies of a van Manderpootz concept. So, after a puzzled but admiring survey of its infinitely delicate wires and grids and lenses, I made the obvious move. I put it on.
My first thought was the street, but since the evening was well along, the walk below the window was deserted. Back in my chair again, I sat musing idly when a faint sound that was not the rumbling of the professor’s voice attracted my attention. I identified it shortly as the buzzing of a heavy fly, butting its head stupidly against the pane of glass that separated the small laboratory from the large room beyond. I wondered casually what the viewpoint of a fly was like, and ended by flashing the light on the creature.
For some moments I saw nothing other than I had been seeing right along from my own personal point of view, because, as van Manderpootz explained later, the psychons from the miserable brain of a fly are too few to produce any but the vaguest of impressions. But gradually I became aware of a picture, a queer and indescribable scene.
Flies are colorblind. That was my first impression, for the world was a dull panorama of greys and whites and blacks. Flies are extremely nearsighted; when I had finally identified the scene as the interior of the familiar room, I discovered that it seemed enormous to the insect, whose vision did not extend more than six feet, though it did take in almost a complete sphere, so that the creature could see practically in all directions at once. But perhaps the most astonishing thing, though I did not think of it until later, was that the compound eye of the insect, did not convey to it the impression of a vast number of separate pictures, such as the eye produces when a microphotograph is taken through it. The fly sees one picture just as we do; in the same way as our brain rights the upside-down image cast on our retina, the fly’s brain reduces the compound image to one. And beyond these impressions were a wild hodgepodge of smell-sensations, and a strange desire to burst through the invisible glass barrier into the brighter light beyond. But I had no time to analyze these sensations, for suddenly there was a flash of something infinitely clearer than the dim cerebrations of a fly.
For half a minute or longer I was unable to guess what that momentary flash had been. I knew that I had seen something incredibly lovely, that I had tapped a viewpoint that looked upon something whose very presence caused ecstasy, but whose viewpoint it was, or what that flicker of beauty had been, were questions beyond my ability to answer.
I slipped off the attitudinizor and sat staring perplexedly at the buzzing fly on the pane of glass. Out in the other room van Manderpootz continued his harangue to the repentant Carter, and off in a corner invisible from my position I could hear the rustle of papers as Miss Fitch transcribed endless notes. I puzzled vainly over the problem of what had happened, and then the solution dawned on me.
The fly must have buzzed between me and one of the occupants of the outer laboratory. I had been following its flight with the faintly visible beam of the attitudinizor’s light, and that beam must have flickered momentarily on the head of one of the three beyond the glass. But which? Van Manderpootz himself? It must have been either the professor or Carter, since the secretary was quite beyond range of the light.
It seemed improbable that the cold and brilliant mind of van Manderpootz could be the agency of the sort of emotional ecstasy I had sensed. It must therefore, have been the head of the mild and inoffensive little Carter that the beam had tapped. With a feeling of curiosity I slipped the device back on my own head and sent the beam sweeping dimly into the larger room.
It did not at the time occur to me that such a procedure was quite as discreditable as eavesdropping, or even more dishonorable, if you come right down to it, because it meant the theft of far more personal information than one could ever convey by the spoken word. But all I considered at the moment was my own curiosity; I wanted to learn what sort of viewpoint could produce that strange, instantaneous flash of beauty. If the proceeding was unethical—well, Heaven knows I was punished for it.
So I turned the attitudinizor on Carter. At the moment, he was listening respectfully to van Manderpootz, and I sensed clearly his respect for the great man, a respect that had in it a distinct element of fear. I could hear Carter’s impression of the booming voice of the professor, sounding somewhat like the modulated thunder of a god, which was not far from the little man’s actual opinion of his master. I perceived Carter’s opinion of himself, and his self-picture was an even more mouselike portrayal than my own impression of him. When, for an instant, he glanced my way, I sensed his impression of me, and while I’m sure that Dixon Wells is not the imbecile he appears to van Manderpootz, I’m equally sure that he’s not the debonair man of the world he seemed to Carter. All in all, Carter’s point of view seemed that of a timid, inoffensive, retiring, servile little man, and I wondered all the more what could have caused that vanished flash of beauty in a mind like his.
There was no trace of it now. His attention was completely taken up by the voice of van Manderpootz, who had passed from a personal appraisal of Carter’s stupidity to a general lecture on the fallacies of the unified field theory as presented by his rivals Corveille and Shrimski. Carter was listening with an almost worshipful regard, and I could feel his surges of indignation against the villains who dared to disagree with the authority of van Manderpootz.
I sat there intent on the strange double vision of the attitudinizor, which was in some respects like a Horsten psychomat—that is, one is able to see both through his own eyes and through the eyes of his subject. Thus I could see van Manderpootz and Carter quite clearly, but at the same time I could see or sense what Carter saw and sensed. Thus I perceived suddenly through my own eyes that the professor had ceased talking to Carter, and had turned at the approach of somebody as yet invisible to me, while at the same time, through Carter’s eyes, I saw that vision of ecstasy which had flashed for a moment in his mind. I saw—description is utterly impossible, but I saw a woman who, except possibly for the woman of the idealizator screen, was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen!
I say description is impossible. That is the literal truth, for her coloring, her expression, her figure, as seen through Carter’s eyes, were completely unlike anything expressible by words. I was fascinated, I could do nothing but watch, and I felt a wild surge of jealousy as I caught the adoration in the attitude of the humble Carter. She was glorious, magnificent, indescribable. It was with an effort that I untangled myself from the web of fascination enough to catch Carter’s thought of her name. “Lisa,” he was thinking. “Lisa.”
What she said to van Manderpootz was in tones too low for me to hear, and apparently too low for Carter’s ears as well, else I should have heard her words through the attitudinizor. But both of us heard van Manderpootz’s bellow in answer.
“I don’t care how the dictionary pronounces the word!” he roared. “The way van Manderpootz pronounces a word is right!”
The glorious Lisa turned silently and vanished. For a few moments I watched her through Carter’s eyes, but as she neared the laboratory door, he turned his attention again to van Manderpootz, and she was lost to my view.
And as I saw the professor close his dissertation and approach me, I slipped the attitudinizor from my head and forced myself to a measure of calm.
“Who is she?” I demanded. “I’ve got to meet her!”
He looked blankly at me. “Who’s who?”
“Lisa! Who’s Lisa?”
There was not a flicker in the cool blue eyes of van Manderpootz. “I don’t know any Lisa,” he said indifferently.
“But you were just talking to her! Right out there!”
Van Manderpootz stared curiously at me; then little by little a shrewd suspicion seemed to dawn in his broad, intelligent features. “Hah!” he said. “Have you, by any chance, been using the attitudinizor?”
I nodded, chill apprehension gripping me.
“And is it also true that you chose to investigate the viewpoint of Carter out there?” At my nod, he stepped to the door that joined the two rooms, and closed it. When he faced me again, it was with features working into lines of amusement that suddenly found utterance in booming laughter. “Haw!” he roared. “Do you know who beautiful Lisa is? She’s Fitch!”
“Fitch? You’re mad! She’s glorious, and Fitch is plain and scrawny and ugly. Do you think I’m a fool?”
“You ask an embarrassing question,” chuckled the professor. “Listen to me, Dixon. The woman you saw was my secretary, Miss Fitch, seen through the eyes of Carter. Don’t you understand? The idiot Carter’s in love with her!”
I suppose I walked the upper levels half the night, oblivious alike of the narrow strip of stars that showed between the towering walls of twenty-first century New York, and the intermittent roar of traffic from the freight levels. Certainly this was the worst predicament of all those into which the fiendish contraptions of the great van Manderpootz had thrust me.
In love with a point of view! In love with a woman who had no existence apart from the beglamoured eyes of Carter. It wasn’t Lisa Fitch I loved; indeed, I rather hated her angular ugliness. What I had fallen in love with was the way she looked to Carter, for there is nothing in the world quite as beautiful as a lover’s conception of his sweetheart.
This predicament was far worse than my former ones. When I had fallen in love with a girl already dead, I could console myself with the thought of what might have been. When I had fallen in love with my own ideal—well, at least she was mine, even if I couldn’t have her. But to fall in love with another man’s conception! The only way that conception could even continue to exist was for Carter to remain in love with Lisa Fitch, which rather effectually left me outside the picture altogether. She was absolutely unattainable to me, for Heaven knows I didn’t want the real Lisa Fitch—“real” meaning, of course, the one who was real to me. I suppose in the end Carter’s Lisa Fitch was as real as the skinny scarecrow my eyes saw.
She was unattainable—or was she? Suddenly an echo of a long-forgotten psychology course recurred to me. Attitudes are habits. Viewpoints are attitudes. Therefore viewpoints are habits. And habits can be learned!
There was the solution! All I had to do was to learn, or to acquire by practice, the viewpoint of Carter. What I had to do was literally to put myself in his place, to look at things in his way, to see his viewpoint. For once I learned to do that, I could see in Lisa Fitch the very things he saw, and the vision would become reality to me as well as to him.
I planned carefully. I did not care to face the sarcasm of the great van Manderpootz; therefore I would work in secret. I would visit his laboratory at such times as he had classes or lectures, and I would use the attitudinizor to study the viewpoint of Carter, and to, as it were, practice that viewpoint. Thus I would have the means at hand of testing my progress, for all I had to do was glance at Miss Fitch without the attitudinizor. As soon as I began to perceive in her what Carter saw, I would know that success was imminent.
Those next two weeks were a strange interval of time. I haunted the laboratory of van Manderpootz at odd hours, having learned from the University office what periods he devoted to his courses. When one day I found the attitudinizor missing, I prevailed on Carter to show me where it was kept, and he, influenced doubtless by my friendship for the man he practically worshipped, indicated the place without question. But later I suspect that he began to doubt his wisdom in this, for I know he thought it very strange for me to sit for long periods staring at him; I caught all sorts of puzzled questions in his mind, though as I have said, these were hard for me to decipher until I began to learn Carter’s personal system of symbolism by which he thought. But at least one man was pleased—my father, who took my absences from the office and neglect of business as signs of good health and spirits, and congratulated me warmly on the improvement.
But the experiment was beginning to work, I found myself sympathizing with Carter’s viewpoint, and little by little the mad world in which he lived was becoming as logical as my own. I learned to recognize colors through his eyes; I learned to understand form and shape; most fundamental of all, I learned his values, his attitudes, his tastes. And these last were a little inconvenient at times, for on the several occasions when I supplemented my daily calls with visits to van Manderpootz in the evening, I found some difficulty in separating my own respectful regard for the great man from Carter’s unreasoning worship, with the result that I was on the verge of blurting out the whole thing to him several times. And perhaps it was a guilty conscience, but I kept thinking that the shrewd blue eyes of the professor rested on me with a curiously suspicious expression all evening.
The thing was approaching its culmination. Now and then, when I looked at the angular ugliness of Miss Fitch, I began to catch glimpses of the same miraculous beauty that Carter found in her—glimpses only, but harbingers of success. Each day I arrived at the laboratory with increasing eagerness, for each day brought me nearer to the achievement I sought. That is, my eagerness increased until one day I arrived to find neither Carter nor Miss Fitch present, but van Manderpootz, who should have been delivering a lecture on indeterminism, very much in evidence.
“Uh—hello,” I said weakly.
“Umph!” he responded, glaring at me. “So Carter was right, I see. Dixon, the abysmal stupidity of the human race continually astounds me with new evidence of its astronomical depths, but I believe this escapade of yours plumbs the uttermost regions of imbecility.”
“Do you think you can escape the piercing eye of van Manderpootz? As soon as Carter told me you had been here in my absence, my mind leaped nimbly to the truth. But Carter’s information was not even necessary, for half an eye was enough to detect the change in your attitude on these last few evening visits. So you’ve been trying to adopt Carter’s viewpoint, eh? No doubt with the idea of ultimately depriving him of the charming Miss Fitch!”
“Listen to me, Dixon. We will disregard the ethics of the thing and look at it from a purely rational viewpoint, if a rational viewpoint is possible to anybody but van Manderpootz. Don’t you realize that in order to attain Carter’s attitude toward Fitch, you would have to adopt his entire viewpoint? Not,” he added tersely, “that I think his point of view is greatly inferior to yours, but I happen to prefer the viewpoint of a donkey to that of a mouse. Your particular brand of stupidity is more agreeable to me than Carter’s timid, weak, and subservient nature, and some day you will thank me for this. Was his impression of Fitch worth the sacrifice of your own personality?”
“I—I don’t know.”
“Well, whether it was or not, van Manderpootz has decided the matter in the wisest way. For it’s too late now, Dixon. I have given them both a month’s leave and sent them away—on a honeymoon. They left this morning.”