TeacherWeb

Mr. Klein



Top Divider

 

SCIENCE FICTION (SEVENTH)

SCIENCE FICTION


 PART I: January 1976 Chapter One ON THOSE CLOUDY DAYS, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back. If he had been more analytical, he might have calculated the approximate time of their arrival; but he still used the lifetime habit of judging nightfall by the sky, and on cloudy days that method didn't work. That was why he chose to stay near the house on those days. He walked around the house in the dull gray of afternoon, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, trailing threadlike smoke over his shoulder. He checked each window to see if any of the boards had been loosened. After violent attacks, the planks were often split or partially pried off, and he had to replace them completely; a job he hated. Today only one plank was loose. Isn't that amazing? he thought. In the back yard he checked the hothouse and the water tank. Sometimes the structure around the tank might be weakened or its rain catchers bent or broken off. Sometimes they would lob rocks over the high fence around the hothouse, and occasionally they would tear through the overhead net and he'd have to replace panes. Both the tank and the hothouse were undamaged today. He went to the house for a hammer and nails. As he pushed open the front door, he looked at the distorted reflection of himself in the cracked mirror he'd fastened to the door a month ago. In a few days, jagged pieces of the silver-backed glass would start to fall off. Let `em fall, he thought. It was the last damned mirror he'd put there; it wasn't worth it. He'd put garlic there instead. Garlic always worked. He passed slowly through the dim silence of the living room, turned left into the small hallway, and left again into his bedroom. Once the room had been warmly decorated, but that was in another time. Now it was a room entirely functional, and since Neville's bed and bureau took up so little space, he had converted one side of the room into a shop. A long bench covered almost an entire wall, on its hardwood top a heavy band saw; a wood lathe, an emery wheel, and a vise. Above it, on the wall, were haphazard racks of the tools that Robert N�ville used. He took a hammer from the bench and picked out a few nails from one of the disordered bins. Then he went back outside and nailed the plank fast to the shutter. The unused nails he threw into the rubble next door. For a while he stood on the front lawn looking up and down the silent length of Cimarron Street. He was a tall man, thirty-six, born of English-German stock, his features undistinguished except for the long, determined mouth and the bright blue of his eyes, which moved now over the charred ruins of the houses on each side of his. He'd burned them down to prevent them from jumping on his roof from the adjacent ones. After a few minutes he took a long, slow breath and went back into the house. He tossed the hammer on the living-room couch, then lit another cigarette and had his midmorning drink.  
   Later he forced himself into the kitchen to grind up the five-day accumulation of garbage in the sink. He knew he should burn up the paper plates and utensils too, and dust the furniture and wash out the sinks and the bathtub and toilet, and change the sheets and pillowcase on his bed; but he didn't feel like it. For he was a man and he was alone and these things had no importance to him. It was almost noon. Robert Neville was in his hothouse collecting a basketful of garlic. In the beginning it had made him sick to smell garlic in such quantity his stomach had been in a state of constant turmoil. Now the smell was in his house and in his clothes, and sometimes he thought it was even in his flesh. He hardly noticed it at all. When he had enough bulbs, he went back to the house and dumped them on the drainboard of the sink. As he flicked the wall switch, the light flickered, then flared into normal brilliance. A disgusted hiss passed his clenched teeth. The generator was at it again. He'd have to get out that damned manual again and check the wiring. And, if it were too much trouble to repair, he'd have to install a new generator. Angrily he jerked a high- legged stool to the sink, got a knife, and sat down with an exhausted grunt. First, be separated the bulbs into the small, sickle-shaped cloves. Then he cut each pink, leathery clove in half, exposing the fleshy center buds. The air thickened with the musky, pungent odor. When it got too oppressive, he snapped on the air-conditioning unit and suction drew away the worst of it. Now he reached over and took an icepick from its wall rack. He punched holes in each clove half, then strung them all together with wire until he had about twenty-five necklaces. In the beginning he had hung these necklaces over the windows. But from a distance they'd thrown rocks until he'd been forced to cover the broken panes with plywood scraps. Finally one day he'd torn off the plywood and nailed up even rows of planks instead. It had made the house a gloomy sepulcher, but it was better than having rocks come flying into his rooms in a shower of splintered glass. And, once he had installed the three air-conditioning units, it wasn't too bad. A man could get used to anything if he had to. When he was finished stringing the garlic cloves, he went outside and nailed them over the window boarding, taking down the old strings, which had lost most of their potent smell. He had to go through this process twice a week. Until he found something better, it was his first line of defense. Defense? he often thought. For what? All afternoon he made stakes. He lathed them out of thick doweling, band-sawed into nine- inch lengths. These be held against the whirling emery stone until they were as sharp as daggers It was tiresome, monotonous work, and it filled the air with hot-smelling wood dust that settled in his pores and got into his lungs and made him cough. Yet he never seemed to get ahead. No matter how many stakes he made, they were gone in no time at all. Doweling was getting harder to find, too. Eventually he'd have to lathe down rectangular lengths of wood. Won't that be fun? he thought irritably. It was all very depressing and it made him resolve to find a better method of disposal. But how could he find it when they never gave him a chance to slow down and think?  
   As he lathed, he listened to records over the loudspeaker he'd set up in the bedroom-- Beethoven's Third, Seventh, and Ninth symphonies. He was glad he'd learned early in life, from his mother, to appreciate this kind of music. It helped to fill the terrible void of hours. From four o'clock on, his gaze kept shifting to the clock on the wall. He worked in silence, lips pressed into a hard line, a cigarette in the corner of his mouth, his eyes staring at the bit as it gnawed away the wood and sent floury dust filtering down to the floor. Four- fifteen. Four-thirty. It was a quarter to five. In another hour they'd be at the house again, the filthy bastards. As soon as the light was gone. He stood before the giant freezer, selecting his supper. His jaded eyes moved over the stacks of meats down to the frozen vegetables, down to the breads and pastries, the fruits and ice cream. He picked out two lamb chops, string beans, and a small box of orange sherbet. He picked the boxes from the freezer and pushed shut the door with his elbow, Next he moved over to the uneven stacks of cans piled to the ceiling. He took down a can of tomato juice, then left the room that had once belonged to Kathy and now belonged to his stomach. He moved slowly across the living room, looking at the mural that covered the back wall. It showed a cliff edge, sheering off to green-blue ocean that surged and broke over black rocks. Far up in the clear blue sky, white sea gulls floated on the wind, and over on the right a gnarled tree hung over the precipice, its dark branches etched against the sky. Neville walked into the kitchen and dumped the groceries on the table, his eyes moving to the clock. Twenty minutes to six. Soon now. He poured a little water into a small pan and clanked it down on a stove burner. Next he thawed out the chops and put them under the broiler. By this time the water was boiling and he dropped in the frozen string beans and covered them, thinking that it was probably the electric stove that was milking the generator. At the table he sliced himself two pieces of bread and poured himself a glass of tomato juice. He sat down and looked at the red second hand as it swept slowly around the clock face. The bastards ought to be here soon. After he'd finished his tomato juice, he walked to the front door and went out onto the porch. He stepped off onto the lawn and walked down to the sidewalk. The sky was darkening and it was getting chilly. He looked up and down Cimarron Street, the cool breeze ruffling his blond hair. That's what was wrong with these cloudy days; you never knew when they were coming. Oh, well, at least they were better than those damned dust storms. With a shrug, he moved back across the lawn and into the house, locking and bolting the door behind him, sliding the thick bar into place. Then he went back into the kitchen, turned his chops, and switched off the heat under the string beans. He was putting the food on his plate when he stopped and his eyes moved quickly to the clock. Six-twenty- five today. Ben Cortman was shouting. "Come out, Neville!" Robert Neville sat down with a sigh and began to eat.  
   He sat in the living room, trying to read. He'd made himself a whisky and soda at his small bar and he held the cold glass as he read a physiology text. From the speaker over the hallway door, the music of Schonberg was playing loudly. Not loudly enough, though. He still heard them outside, their murmuring and their walkings about and their cries, their snarling and fighting among themselves. Once in a while a rock or brick thudded off the house. Sometimes a dog barked. And they were all there for the same thing. Robert Neville closed his eyes a moment and held his lips in a tight line. Then he opened his eyes and lit another cigarette, letting the smoke go deep into his lungs. He wished he'd had time to soundproof the house. It wouldn't be so bad if it weren't that he had to listen to them. Even after five months, it got on his nerves. He never looked at them any more. In the beginning he'd made a peephole in the front window and watched them. But then the women had seen him and had started striking vile postures in order to entice him out of the house. He didn't want to look at that. He put down his book and stared bleakly at the rug, hearing Verkl�rte Nacht play over the loud-speaker. He knew he could put plugs in his ears to shut off the sound of them, but that would shut off the music too, and he didn't want to feel that they were forcing him into a shell. He closed his eyes again. It was the women who made it so difficult, be thought, the women posing like lewd puppets in the night on the possibility that he'd see them and decide to come out. A shudder. ran through him. Every night it was the same. He'd be reading and listening to music. Then he'd start to think about soundproofing the house, then he'd think about the women. Deep in his body, the knotting heat began again, and be pressed his lips together until they were white. He knew the feeling well and it enraged him that he couldn't combat it. It grew and grew until he couldn't sit still any more. Then he'd get up and pace the floor, fists bloodless at his sides. Maybe he'd set up the movie projector or eat something or have too much to drink or turn the music up so loud it hurt his ears. He had to do something when it got really bad. He felt the muscles of his abdomen closing in like frightening coils. He picked up the book and tried to read, his lips forming each word slowly and painfully. But in a moment the book was on his lap again. He looked at the bookcase across from him. All the knowledge in those books couldn't put out the fires in him; all the words of centuries couldn't end the wordless, mindless craving of his flesh. The realization made him sick. It was an insult to a man. All right, it was a natural drive, but there was no outlet for it any more. They'd forced celibacy on him; he'd have to live with it. You have a mind, don't you? he asked himself. Well, use it? He reached over and turned the music still louder; then forced himself to read a whole page without pause. He read about blood cells being forced through membranes, about pale lymph carrying the wastes through tubes blocked by lymph nodes, about lymphocytes and phago cytic cells. "--to empty, in the left shoulder region, near the thorax, into a large vein of the blood circulating system." The book shut with a thud. Why didn't they leave him alone? Did they think they could all have him? Were they so stupid they thought that? Why did they keep coming every night? After five months, you'd  
  think they'd give up and try elsewhere. He went over to the bar and made himself another drink. As he turned back to his chair he heard stones rattling down across the roof and landing with thuds in the shrubbery beside the house. Above the noises, he heard Ben Cortman shout as he always shouted. "Come out, Neville!" Someday I'll get that bastard, he thought as he took a big swallow of the bitter drink. Someday I'll knock a stake right through his goddamn chest. I'll make one a foot long for him, a special one with ribbons on it, the bastard. Tomorrow. Tomorrow he'd soundproof the house. His fingers drew into white-knuckled fists. He couldn't stand thinking about those women. If he didn't hear them, maybe he wouldn't think about them. Tomorrow. Tomorrow. The music ended and he took a stack of records off the turntable and slid them back into their cardboard envelopes. Now he could hear them even more clearly outside. He reached for the first new record he could get and put it on the turntable and twisted the volume up to its highest point. "The Year of the Plague," by Roger Leie, filled his ears. Violins scraped and whined, tympani thudded like the beats of a dying heart, flutes played weird, atonal melodies. With a stiffening of rage, he wrenched up the record and snapped it over his right knee. He'd meant to break it long ago. He walked on rigid legs to the kitche n and flung the pieces into the trash box. Then he stood in the dark kitchen, eyes tightly shut, teeth clenched, hands damped over his ears. Leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone! No use, you couldn't beat them at night. No use trying; it was their special time. He was acting very stupidly, trying to beat them. Should he watch a movie? No, he didn't feel like setting up the projector. He'd go to bed and put the plugs in his ears. It was what he ended up doing every night, anyway. Quickly, trying not to think at all; he went to the bedroom and undressed. He put on pajama bottoms and went into the bathroom. He never wore pajama tops; it was a habit he'd acquired in Panama during the war. As he washed, he looked into the mirror at his broad chest, at the dark hair swirling around the nipples and down the center line of his chest. He looked at the ornate cross he'd had tattooed on his chest one night in Panama when he'd been drunk. What a fool I was in those days! he thought. Well, maybe that cross had saved his life. He brushed his teeth carefully and used dental- floss. He tried to take good care of his teeth because he was his own dentist now. Some things could go to pot, but not his health, he thought. Then why don't you stop pouring alcohol into yourself? he thought. Why don't you shut the hell up? he thought. Now be went through the house, turning out lights. For a few minutes he looked at the mural and tried to believe it was really the ocean. But how could he believe it with all the bumpings and the scrapings, the howlings and snarlings and cries in the night? He turned off the living- room lamp and went into the bedroom. He made a sound of disgust when he saw that sawdust covered the bed. He brushed it off with snapping hand strokes, thinking that he'd better build a partition between the shop and the sleeping portion of the room. Better do this and better do that, he thought morosely. There were so many damned things to do, he'd never get to the real problem. He jammed in his earplugs and a great silence engulfed him. He turned off the light and crawled in between the sheets. He looked at the radium- faced clock and saw that it was only a  
  few minutes past ten. Just as well, he thought. This way I'll get an early start. He lay there on the bed and took deep breaths of the darkness, hoping for sleep. But the silence didn't really help. He could still see them out there, the white- faced men prowling around his house, looking ceaselessly for a way to get in at him. Some of them, probably, crouching on their haunches like dogs, eyes glittering at the house, teeth slowly grating together, back and forth, back and forth. And the women ... Did he have to start thinking about them again? He tossed over on his stomach with a curse and pressed his face into the hot pillow. He lay there, breathing heavily, body writhing slightly on the sheet. Let the morning come. His mind spoke the words it spoke every night, Dear God, let the morning come. He dreamed about Virginia and he cried out in his sleep and his fingers gripped the sheets like frenzied talons.  
   Chapter Two THE ALARM WENT OFF at five-thirty and Robert Neville reached out a numbed arm in the morning gloom and pushed in the stop. He reached for his cigarettes and lit one, then sat up. After a few moments he got up and walked into the dark living room and opened the peephole door. Outside, on the lawn, the dark figures stood like silent soldiers on duty. As he watched, some of them started moving away, and he heard them muttering discontentedly among themselves. Another night was ended. He went back to the bedroom, switched on the light, and dressed. As he was pulling on his shirt, he heard Ben Cortman cry out, "Come out, Neville!" And that was all. After that, they all went away weaker, he knew, than when they had come. Unless they had attacked one of their own. They did that often. There was no union among them. Their need was their only motivation. After dressing, Neville sat down on his bed with a grunt and penciled his list for the day: Lathe at Sears Water Check generator Doweling (?) Usual Breakfast was hasty: a glass of orange juice, a slice of toast, and two cups of coffee. He finished it quickly, wishing he had the patience to eat slowly. After breakfast he threw the paper plate and cup into the trash box and brushed his teeth. At least I have one good habit, he consoled himself. The first thing he did when he went outside was look at the sky. It was clear, virtually cloudless. He could go, out today. Good. As he crossed the porch, his shoe kicked some pieces of the mirror. Well, the damn thing broke just as I thought it would, he thought. He'd clean it up later. One of the bodies was sprawled on the sidewalk; the other one was half concealed in the shrubbery. They were both women. They were almost always women. He unlocked the garage door and backed his Willys station wagon into the early- morning crispness. Then he got out and pulled down the back gate. He put on heavy gloves and walked over to the woman on the sidewalk. There was certainly nothing attractive about them in the daylight, he thought, as he dragged them across the lawn and threw them up on the canvas tarpaulin. There wasn't a drop left in them; both women were the color of fish out of water. He raised the gate and fastened it. He went around the lawn then, picking up stones and bricks and putting them into a cloth sack. He put the sack in the station wagon and then took off his gloves. He went inside the house, washed his hands, and made lunch: two sandwiches, a few cookies, and a thermos of hot  
  coffee. When that was done, he went into the bedroom and got his bag of stakes. He slung this across his back and buckled on the holster that held his mallet. Then he went out of the house, locking the front door behind him. He wouldn't bother searching for Ben Cortman that morning; there were too many other things to do. For a second, he thought about the soundproofing job he'd resolved to do on the house. Well, the hell with it, he thought. I'll do it tomorrow or some cloudy day. He got into the station wagon and checked his list. "Lathe at Sears"; that was first. After he dumped the bodies, of course. He started the car and backed quickly into the street and headed for Compton Boulevard. There he turned right and headed east. On both sides of him the houses stood silent, and against the curbs cars were parked, empty and dead. Robert Neville's eyes shifted down for a moment to the fuel gauge. There was still a half tank, but he might as well stop on Western Avenue and fill it. There was no point in using any of the gasoline stored in the garage until be had to. He pulled into the silent station and braked. He got a barrel of gasoline and siphoned it into his tank until the pale amber fluid came gushing out of the tank opening and ran down onto the cement. He checked the oil, water, battery water, and tires. Everything was in good condition. It usually was, because he took special care of the car. If it ever broke down so that he couldn't get back to the house by sunset... Well, there was no point in even worrying about that. If it ever happened, that was the end. Now he continued up Compton Boulevard past the tall oil derricks, through Compton, through all the silent streets. There was no one to be seen anywhere. But Robert Neville knew where they were. The fire was always burning. As the car drew closer, he pulled on his gloves and gas mask and watched through the eyepieces the sooty pall of smoke hovering above the earth. The entire field had been excavated into one gigantic pit, that was in June 1975. Neville parked the car and jumped out, anxious to get the job over with quickly. Throwing the catch and jerking. down the rear gate, he pulled out one of the bodies and dragged it to the edge of the pit. There he stood it on its feet and shoved. The body bumped and rolled down the steep incline until it settled on the great pile of smoldering ashes at the bottom. Robert Neville drew in harsh breaths as he hurried back to the station wagon. He always felt as though he were strangling when he was here, even though he had the gas mask on. Now he dragged the second body to the brink of the pit and pushed it over. Then, after tossing the sack, of rocks down, he hurried back to the car and sped away. After he'd driven a half mile, he skinned off the mask and gloves and tossed them into the back. His mouth opened and he drew in deep lungfuls of fresh air. He took the flask from the glove compartment and took a long drink of burning whisky. Then he lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. Sometimes he had to go to the burning pit every day for weeks at a time, and it always made him sick. Somewhere down there was Kathy. On the way to Inglewood he stopped at a market to get some bottled water. As he entered the silent store, the smell of rotted food filled his nostrils. Quickly he pushed a metal wagon up and down the silent, dust-thick aisles, the heavy smell of decay setting his teeth on edge, making him  
  breathe through his mouth. He found the water bottles in back, and also found a door opening on a flight of stairs. After putting all the bottles into the wagon, he went up the stairs. The owner of the market might be up there; he might as well get started. There were two of them. In the living room, lying on a couch, was a woman about thirty years old, wearing a red housecoat. Her chest rose and fell slowly as she lay there, eyes closed, her hands clasped over her stomach. Robert Neville's hands fumbled on the stake and mallet. It was always hard, when they were alive; especially with women. He could feel that senseless demand returning again, tightening his muscles. He forced it down. It was insane, there was no rational argument for it. She made no sound except for a sudden, hoarse intake of breath. As he walked into the bedroom, he could hear a sound like the sound of water running. Well, what else can I do? he asked himself, for he still had to convince himself he was doing the right thing. He stood in the bedroom doorway, staring at the small bed by the window, his throat moving, breath shuddering in his chest. Then, driven on, he walked to the side of the bed and looked down at her. Why do they all look like Kathy to me? he thought, drawing out the second stake with shaking hands. Driving slowly to Sears, he tried to forget by wondering why it was that only wooden stakes should work. He frowned as he drove along the empty boulevard, the only sound the muted growling of the motor in his car. It seemed fantastic that it had taken him five months to start wondering about it. Which brought another question to mind. How was it that he always managed to hit the heart? It had to be the heart; Dr. Busch had said so. Yet he, Neville, had no anatomical knowledge. His brow furrowed. It irritated him that he should have gone through this hideous process so long without stopping once to question it. He shook, his head. No, I should think it over carefully, he thought, I should collect all the questions before I try to answer them. Things should be done the right way, the scientific way. Yeah, yeah, yeah, he thought, shades of old Fritz. That had been his father's name. Neville had loathed his father and fought the acquisition of his father's logic and mechanical facility every inch of the way. His father had died denying the vampire violently to the last. At Sears he got the lathe, loaded it into the station wagon, then searched the store. There were five of them in the basement, hiding in various shadowed places. One of them Neville found inside a display freezer. When he saw the man lying there in this enamel coffin, he had to laugh; it seemed such a funny place to hide. Later, he thought of what a humorless world it was when he could find amusement in such a thing. About two o'clock he parked and ate his lunch. Everything seemed to taste of garlic. And that set him wondering about the effect garlic had on them. It must have been the smell that chased them off, but why? They were strange, the facts about them: their staying inside by day, their avoidance of garlic, their death by stake, their reputed fear of crosses, their supposed dread of mirrors.  
   Take that last, now. According to legend, they were invisible in mirrors, but he knew that was untrue. As untrue as the belief that they transformed themselves into bats. That was a superstition that logic, plus observation had easily disposed of. It was equally foolish to believe that they could transform themselves into wolves. Without a doubt there were vampire dogs; he had seen and heard them outside his house at night. But they were only dogs. Robert Neville compressed his lips suddenly. Forget it, he told himself; you're not ready, yet. The time would come when he'd take a crack at it, detail for detail, but the time wasn't now. There were enough things to worry about now. After lunch, he went from house to house and used up all his stakes. He had forty-seven stakes.  
   Chapter Three "THE STRENGTH OF THE vampire is that no one will believe in him." Thank you, Dr. Van Helsing, he thought, putting down his copy Of "Dracula." He sat staring moodily at the bookcase, listening to Brahms' second piano concerto, a whisky sour in his right hand, a cigarette between his lips. It was true. The book was a hodgepodge of superstitions and soap-opera clich�s, but that line was true; no one had believed in them, and how could they fight something they didn't even believe in? That was what the situation had been. Something black and of the night had come crawling out of the Middle Ages. Something with no framework or credulity, something that had been consigned, fact and figure, to the pages of imaginative literature. Vampires were pass�; Summers' idylls or Stoker's melodramatics or a brief inclusion in the Britannica or grist for the pulp writer's mill or raw material for the B-film factories. A tenuous legend passed from century to century. Well, it was true. He took a sip from his drink and closed his eyes as the cold liquid trickled down his throat and warmed his stomach. True, he thought, but no one ever got the chance to know it. Oh, they knew it was something, but it couldn't be that--not that. That was imagination, that was superstition, there was no such thing as that. And, before science had caught up with the lege nd, the legend had swallowed science and everything. He hadn't found any doweling that day. He hadn't checked the generator. He hadn't cleaned up the pieces of mirror. He hadn't eaten supper; he'd lost his appetite. That wasn't hard. He lost it most of the time. He couldn't do the things he'd done all afternoon and then come home to a hearty meal. Not even after five months. He thought of the eleven--no, the twelve children that afternoon, and he finished his drink in two swallows. He blinked and the room wavered a little before him. You're getting blotto, Father, he told himself. So what? he returned. Has anyone more right? He tossed the book across the room. Begone, Van Helsing and Mina and Jonathan and blood- eyed Count and all! All figments, all driveling extrapolations on a somber theme. A coughing chuckle emptied itself from his throat. Outside, Ben Cortman called for him to come out. Be right out, Benny, he thought. Soon as I get my tuxedo on. He shuddered. and gritted his teeth edges toge ther. Be right out. Well; why not? Why not go out? It was a sure way to be free of them. Be one of them. He chuckled at the simplicity of it, then shoved himself up and walked crookedly to the bar. Why not? His mind plodded on. Why go through all this complexity when a flung open door and a few steps would end it all? For the life of him, he didn't know. There was, of course, the faint possibility that others like  
  him existed somewhere, trying to go on, hoping that someday they would be among their own kind again. But how could he ever find them if they weren't within a day's drive of his house? He shrugged and poured more whisky in the glass; he'd given up the use of jiggers months ago. Garlic on the windows, and nets over the hothouse and burn the bodies and cart the rocks away and, fraction of an inch by fraction of an inch, reduce their unholy numbers. Why kid himself? He'd never find anyone else. His body dropped down heavily on the chair. Here we are, kiddies, sitting like a bug in a rug, snugly, surrounded by a battalion of blood-suckers who wish no more than to sip freely of my bonded, 100-proof hemoglobin. Have a drink, men, this one's really on me. His face twisted into an expression of raw, unqualified hatred. Bastards! I'll kill eve ry, mother's son of you before I'll give in! His right hand closed like a clamp and the glass shattered in his grip. He looked down, dull-eyed, at the fragments on the floor, at the jagged piece of glass still in his hand, at the whisky-diluted blood dripping off his palm. Wouldn't they like to get some of it, though? he thought. He started up with a furious lurch and almost opened the door so he could wave the hand in their faces and hear them howl. Then he closed his eyes and a shudder ran through his body. Wise up, buddy, he thought. Go bandage your goddamn hand. He stumbled into the bathroom and washed his hand carefully, gasping as he daubed iodine into the sliced-open flesh. Then he bandaged it clumsily, his broad chest rising and falling with jerky movements, sweat dripping from his forehead. I need a cigarette, he thought. In the living room again, he changed Brahms for Bernstein and lit a cigarette. What will I do if I ever run out of coffin nails? he wondered, looking at the cigarette's blue trailing smoke. Well, there wasn't much chance of that. He had about a thousand cartons in the closet of Kathy's--He clenched his teeth together. In the closet of the larder, the larder, the larder. Kathy's room. He sat staring with dead eyes at the mural while "The Age of Anxiety" pulsed in his ears. Age of anxiety, he mused. You thought you had anxiety, Lenny boy. Lenny and Benny; you two should meet. Composer, meet corpse. Mamma, when I grow up I wanna be a wampir like Dada. Why, bless you, boo, of course you shall. The whisky gurgled into the glass. He grimaced a little at the pain in his hand and shifted the bottle to his left hand. He sat down and sipped. Let the jagged edge of sobriety be now dulled, he thought. Let the crumby balance of clear vision be expunged, but post haste. I hate `em. Gradually the room shifted on its gyroscopic center and wove and undulated about his chair. A pleasant haze, fuzzy at the edges, took over sight. He looked at the glass, at the record player. He let his head flop from side to side. Outside, they prowled and muttered and waited. Pore vampires, he thought, pore little cusses, pussyfootin' round my house, so thirsty, so all forlorn. A thought. He raised a forefinger that wavered before his eyes. Friends, I come before you to discuss the vampire; a minority element if there ever was one, and there was one. But to concision: I will sketch out the basis for my thesis, which thesis is this: Vampires are prejudiced against... The keynote of minority prejudice is this: They are loathed because they are feared. Thus...  
   He made himself a drink. A long one. At one time, the Dark and Middle Ages, to be succinct, the vampire's power was great, the fear of him tremendous. He was anathema and still remains anathema. Society hates him without ration. But are his needs any more shocking than the needs of other animals and men? Are his deeds more outrageous than the deeds of the parent who drained the spirit from his child? The vampire may foster quickened heartbeats and levitated hair. But is he worse than the parent who gave to society a neurotic child who became a politician? Is he worse than the manufacturer who set up belated foundations with the money he made by handing bombs and guns to suicidal nationalists? Is he worse than the distiller who gave bastardized grain juice to stultify further the brains of those who, sober, were incapable of a progressive thought? (Nay, I apologize for this calumny; I nip the brew that feeds me.) Is he worse, then, than the publisher who filled ubiquitous racks with lust and death wishes? Really, now, search your soul; lovie--is the vampire so bad? All he does is drink blood. Why, then, this unkind prejudice, this thoughtless bias? Why cannot the vampire live where be chooses? Why must he seek out hiding places where none can find him out? Why do you wish him destroyed? Ah, see, you have turned the poor guileless innocent into a haunted animal. He has no means of support, no measures for proper education, he has not the, voting franchise. No wonder he is compelled to seek out a predatory nocturnal existence; Robert Neville grunted a surly grunt. Sure, sure, he thought, but would you let your sister marry one? He shrugged. You got me there, buddy, you got me there. The music ended. The needle scratched back and forth in the black grooves. He sat there, feeling a chill creeping up his legs. That's what was wrong with drinking too much. You became immune to drunken delights. There was no solace in liquor. Before you got happy, you collapsed. Already the room was straightening out, the sounds outside were starting to nibble at his eardrums.. "Come out, Neville!" His throat moved and a shaking breath passed his lips. Come out. The women were out there, their dresses open or taken off, their flesh waiting for his touch, their lips waiting for--My blood, my blood! As if it were someone else's hand, he watched his whitened fist rise up slowly, shuddering, to drive down on his leg. The pain made him suck in a breath of the house's stale air. Garlic. Everywhere the smell of garlic. In his clothes and in the furniture and in his food and even in his drink. Have a garlic and soda; his mind rattled out the attempted joke. He lurched up and started pacing. What am I going to do now? Go through the routine again? I'll save you the trouble. Reading-drinking-soundproof-the-house--the women. The women, the lustful, bloodthirsty, naked women flaunting their hot bodies at him. No, not hot. A shuddering whine wrenched up through his chest and throat. Goddamn them, what were they waiting for? Did they think he was going to come out and hand himself over? Maybe I am, maybe I am. He actually found himself jerking off the crossbar from the door. Coming, girls, I'm coming. Wet your lips, now. Outside, they heard the bar being lifted, and a howl of anticipation sounded in the night. Spinning, he drove his fists one after the other into the wall until he'd cracked the plaster and broken his skin. Then he stood there trembling helplessly, his teeth chattering.  
   After a while it passed. He put the bar back across the door and went into the bedroom. He sank down, on the bed and fell back on the pillow with a groan. His left hand beat once, feebly, on the bedspread. Oh, God, he thought, how long, how long? 


  1. Make a book jacket with an attractive cover design of the story

  2. Do a news report on a particular scene, character, or event in the story

  3. Create a full-sized mask with cutouts based upon a character from the story

  4. Fashion a mobile of color and movement from items related to the story

  5. Create “Jeopardy”-style questions based on the story

  6. Interview a character from the story

  7. Draw a scale model of an item in the story

  8. Create a detailed map of the setting of the story

  9. Complete a scale drawing of a room depicted in the story

  10. Design and create a square for a quilt depicting a favorite scene or a favorite character from the story

  11. Create a drawing of the set design for the movie version based on that story

  12. Act out a telephone conversation between two of the characters from the story

  13. Design a timeline for the events in the story

  14. Design a movie poster based on the story

  15. Create a collage that comments on a particular theme in the story

  16. Create a drawing of a costume for the movie version based on the story


The Fun They Had”

Isaac Asimov

Margie even wrote about it that night in her diary. On the page headed May 17, 2157, she wrote, "Today, Tommy found a real book!"

It was a very old book. Margie's grandfather once said that when he was a little boy his grandfather told him that there was a time when all stories were printed on paper.

They turned the pages, which were yellow and crinkly, and it was awfully funny to read words that stood still instead of moving the way they were supposed to--on a screen, you know. And then, when they turned back to the page before, it had the same words on it that it had had when they read it the first time.

"Gee," said Tommy, "what a waste. When you're through with the book, you just throw it away, I guess. Our television screen must have had a million books on it and it's good for plenty more. I wouldn't throw it away."

"Same with mine," said Margie. She was eleven and hadn't seen as many telebooks as Tommy had. He was thirteen. She said, "Where did you find it?"

"In my house." He pointed without looking, because he was busy reading. "In the attic." "What's it about?" "School."

Margie was scornful. "School? What's there to write about school? I hate school."

Margie always hated school, but now she hated it more than ever. The mechanical teacher had been giving her test after test in geography and she had been doing worse and worse until her mother had shaken her head sorrowfully and sent for the County Inspector.

He was a round little man with a red face and a whole box of tools with dials and wires. He smiled at Margie and gave her an apple, then took the teacher apart. Margie had hoped he wouldn't know how to put it together again, but he knew how all right, and, after an hour or so, there it was again, large and black and ugly, with a big screen on which all the lessons were shown and the questions were asked. That wasn't so bad. The part Margie hated most was the slot where she had to put homework and test papers. She always had to write them out in a punch code they made her learn when she was six years old, and the mechanical teacher calculated the mark in no time.

The Inspector had smiled after he was finished and patted Margie's head. He said to her mother, "It's not the little girl's fault, Mrs. Jones. I think the geography sector was geared a little too quick. Those things happen sometimes. I've slowed it up to an average ten-year level. Actually, the over-all pattern of her progress is quite satisfactory." And he parted Margie's head again.

Margie was disappointed. She had been hoping they would take the teacher away altogether. They had once taken Tommy's teacher away for nearly a month because the history sector had blanked out completely.

So she said to Tommy, "Why would anyone write about school?"

Tommy looked at her with very superior eyes. "Because it's not our kind of school, stupid. This is the old kind of school that they had hundreds and hundreds of years ago." He added loftily, pronouncing the word carefully, "Centuries ago."

Margie was hurt. "Well, I don't know what kind of school they had all that time ago." She read the book over his shoulder for a while, then said, "Anyway, they had a teacher."

"Sure they had a teacher, but it wasn't a regular teacher. It was a man." "A man? How could a man be a teacher?" "Well, he just told the boys and girls things and gave them homework and asked them questions." "A man isn't smart enough." "Sure he is. My father knows as much as my teacher." "He can't. A man can't know as much as a teacher." "He knows almost as much, I betcha."

Margie wasn't prepared to dispute that. She said, "1 wouldn't want a strange man in my house to teach me."

Tommy screamed with laughter. "You don't know much, Margie. The teachers didn't live in the house. They had a special building and all the kids went there." "And all the kids learned the same thing?" "Sure, if they were the same age."

"But my mother says a teacher has to be adjusted to fit the mind of each boy and girl it teaches and that each kid has to be taught differently."

"Just the same they didn't do it that way then. If you don't like it, you don't have to read the book."

"I didn't say I didn't like it," Margie said quickly. She wanted to read about those funny schools.

They weren't even half-finished when Margie's mother called, "Margie! School!" Margie looked up. "Not yet, Mamma."

"Now!" said Mrs. Jones. "And it's probably time for Tommy, too."

Margie said to Tommy, "Can I read the book some more with you after school?"

"Maybe," he said nonchalantly. He walked away whistling, the dusty old book tucked beneath his arm.

Margie went into the schoolroom. It was right next to her bedroom, and the mechanical teacher was on and waiting for her. It was always on at the same time every day except Saturday and Sunday, because her mother said little girls learned better if they learned at regular hours.

The screen was lit up, and it said: "Today's arithmetic lesson is on the addition of proper fractions. Please insert yesterday's homework in the proper slot."

Margie did so with a sigh. She was thinking about the old schools they had when her grandfather's grandfather was a little boy. All the kids from the whole neighborhood came, laughing and shouting in the schoolyard, sitting together in the schoolroom, going home together at the end of the day. They learned the same things, so they could help one another on the homework and talk about it.

And the teachers were people...

The mechanical teacher was flashing on the screen: "When we add the fractions 1/2 and 1/4..."

Margie was thinking about how the kids must have loved it in the old days. She was thinking about the fun they had.

 

“Superiority”

Arthur C. Clarke

IN MAKING THIS STATEMENT - which I do of my own free will - I wish first to make it perfectly clear that I am not in any way trying to gain sympathy, nor do I expect any mitigation of whatever sentence the Court may pronounce. I am writing this in an attempt to refute some of the lying reports broadcast over the prison radio and published in the papers I have been allowed to see. These have given an entirely false picture of the true cause of our defeat, and as the leader of my race's armed forces at the cessation of hostilities I feel it my duty to protest against such libels upon those who served under me.

I also hope that this statement may explain the reasons for the application I have twice made to the Court, and will now induce it to grant a favor for which I can see no possible grounds of refusal.

The ultimate cause of our failure was a simple one: despite all statements to the contrary, it was not due to lack of bravery on the part of our men, or to any fault of the Fleet's. We were defeated by one thing only - by the inferior science of our enemies. I repeat - by the inferior science of our enemies.

When the war opened we had no doubt of our ultimate victory. The combined fleets of our allies greatly exceeded in number and armament those which the enemy could muster against us, and in almost all branches of military science we were their superiors. We were sure that we could maintain this superiority. Our belief proved, alas, to be only too well founded.

At the opening of the war our main weapons were the long-range homing torpedo, dirigible ball-lightning and the various modifications of the Klydon beam. Every unit of the Fleet was equipped with these and though the enemy possessed similar weapons their installations were generally of lesser power. Moreover, we had behind us a far greater military Research Organization, and with this initial advantage we could not possibly lose.

The campaign proceeded according to plan until the Battle of the Five Suns. We won this, of course, but the opposition proved stronger than we had expected. It was realized that victory might be more difficult, and more delayed, than had first been imagined. A conference of supreme commanders was therefore called to discuss our future strategy.

Present for the first time at one of our war conferences was Professor-General Norden, the new Chief of the Research Staff, who had just been appointed to fill the gap left by the death of Malvar, our greatest scientist. Malvar's leadership had been responsible, more than any other single factor, for the efficiency and power of our weapons. His loss was a very serious blow, but no one doubted the brilliance of his successor - though many of us disputed the wisdom of appointing a theoretical scientist to fill a post of such vital importance. But we had been overruled.

I can well remember the impression Norden made at that conference. The military advisers were worried, and as usual turned to the scientists for help. Would it be possible to improve our existing weapons, they asked, so that our present advantage could be increased still further?

Norden's reply was quite unexpected. Malvar had often been asked such a question - and he had always done what we requested.

"Frankly, gentlemen," said Norden, "I doubt it. Our existing weapons have practically reached finality. I don't wish to criticize my predecessor, or the excellent work done by the Research Staff in the last few generations, but do you realize that there has been no basic change in armaments for over a century? It is, I am afraid, the result of a tradition that has become conservative. For too long, the Research Staff has devoted itself to perfecting old weapons instead of developing new ones. It is fortunate for us that our opponents have been no wiser: we cannot assume that this will always be so."

Norden's words left an uncomfortable impression, as he had no doubt intended. He quickly pressed home the attack.

"What we want are new weapons - weapons totally different from any that have been employed before. Such weapons can be made: it will take time, of course, but since assuming charge I have replaced some of the older scientists with young men and have directed research into several unexplored fields which show great promise. I believe, in fact, that a revolution in warfare may soon be upon us."

We were skeptical. There was a bombastic tone in Norden's voice that made us suspicious of his claims. We did not know, then, that he never promised anything that he had not already almost perfected in the laboratory. In the laboratory - that was the operative phrase.

Norden proved his case less than a month later, when he demonstrated the Sphere of Annihilation, which produced complete disintegration of matter over a radius of several hundred meters. We were intoxicated by the power of the new weapon, and were quite prepared to overlook one fundamental defect - the fact that it was a sphere and hence destroyed its rather complicated generating equipment at the instant of formation. This meant, of course, that it could not be used on warships but only on guided missiles, and a great program was started to convert all homing torpedoes to carry the new weapon. For the time being all further offensives were suspended.

We realize now that this was our first mistake. I still think that it was a natural one, for it seemed to us then that all our existing weapons had become obsolete overnight, and we already regarded them as almost primitive survivals. What we did not appreciate was the magnitude of the task we were attempting, and the length of time it would take to get the revolutionary super-weapon into battle. Nothing like this had happened for a hundred years and we had no previous experience to guide us.

The conversion problem proved far more difficult than anticipated. A new class of torpedo had to be designed, as the standard model was too small. This meant in turn that only the larger ships could launch the weapon, but we were prepared to accept this penalty. After six months, the heavy units of the Fleet were being equipped with the Sphere. Training maneuvers and tests had shown that it was operating satisfactorily and we were ready to take it into action. Norden was already being hailed as the architect of victory, and had half promised even more spectacular weapons.

Then two things happened. One of our battleships disappeared completely on a training flight, and an investigation showed that under certain conditions the ship's long-range radar could trigger the Sphere immediately after it had been launched. The modification needed to overcome this defect was trivial, but it caused a delay of another month and was the source of much bad feeling between the naval staff and the scientists. We were ready for action again - when Norden announced that the radius of effectiveness of the Sphere had now been increased by ten, thus multiplying by a thousand the chances of destroying an enemy ship.

So the modifications started all over again, but everyone agreed that the delay would be worth it. Meanwhile, however, the enemy had been emboldened by the absence of further attacks and had made an unexpected onslaught. Our ships were short of torpedoes, since none had been coming from the factories, and were forced to retire. So we lost the systems of Kyrane and Floranus, and the planetary fortress of Rhamsandron.

It was an annoying but not a serious blow, for the recaptured systems had been unfriendly, and difficult to administer. We had no doubt that we could restore the position in the near future, as soon as the new weapon became operational.

These hopes were only partially fulfilled. When we renewed our offensive, we had to do so with fewer of the Spheres of Annihilation than had been planned, and this was one reason for our limited success. The other reason was more serious.

While we had been equipping as many of our ships as we could with the irresistible weapon, the enemy had been building feverishly. His ships were of the old pattern with the old weapons - but they now out-numbered ours. When we went into action, we found that the numbers ranged against us were often 100 percent greater than expected, causing target confusion among the automatic weapons and resulting in higher losses than anticipated. The enemy losses were higher still, for once a Sphere had reached its objective, destruction was certain, but the balance had not swung as far in our favor as we had hoped.

Moreover, while the main fleets had been engaged, the enemy had launched a daring attack on the lightly held systems of Eriston, Duranus, Carmanidora and Pharanidon - recapturing them all. We were thus faced with a threat only fifty light-years from our home planets.

There was much recrimination at the next meeting of the supreme commanders. Most of the complaints were addressed to Norden-Grand Admiral Taxaris in particular maintaining that thanks to our admittedly irresistible weapon we were now considerably worse off than before. We should, he claimed, have continued to build conventional ships, thus preventing the loss of our numerical superiority.

Norden was equally angry and called the naval staff ungrateful bunglers. But I could tell that he was worried - as indeed we all were - by the unexpected turn of events. He hinted that there might be a speedy way of remedying the situation.

We now know that Research had been working on the Battle Analyzer for many years, but at the time it came as a revelation to us and perhaps we were too easily swept off our feet. Norden's argument, also, was seductively convincing. What did it matter, he said, if the enemy had twice as many ships as we - if the efficiency of ours could be doubled or even trebled? For decades the limiting factor in warfare had been not mechanical but biological - it had become more and more difficult for any single mind, or group of minds, to cope with the rapidly changing complexities of battle in three-dimensional space. Norden's mathematicians had analyzed some of the classic engagements of the past, and had shown that even when we had been victorious we had often operated our units at much less than half of their theoretical efficiency.

The Battle Analyzer would change all this by replacing the operations staff with electronic calculators. The idea was not new, in theory, but until now it had been no more than a Utopian dream. Many of us found it difficult to believe that it was still anything but a dream: after we had run through several very complex dummy battles, however, we were convinced.

It was decided to install the Analyzer in four of our heaviest ships, so that each of the main fleets could be equipped with one. At this stage, the trouble began - though we did not know it until later.

The Analyzer contained just short of a million vacuum tubes and needed a team of five hundred technicians to maintain and operate it. It was quite impossible to accommodate the extra staff aboard a battleship, so each of the four units had to be accompanied by a converted liner to carry the technicians not on duty. Installation was also a very slow and tedious business, but by gigantic efforts it was completed in six months.

Then, to our dismay, we were confronted by another crisis. Nearly five thousand highly skilled men had been selected to serve the Analyzers and had been given an intensive course at the Technical Training Schools. At the end of seven months, 10 percent of them had had nervous breakdowns and only 40 per cent had qualified.

Once again, everyone started to blame everyone else. Norden, of course, said that the Research Staff could not be held responsible, and so incurred the enmity of the Personnel and Training Commands. It was finally decided that the only thing to do was to use two instead of four Analyzers and to bring the others into action as soon as men could be trained. There was little time to lose, for the enemy was still on the offensive and his morale was rising.

The first Analyzer fleet was ordered to recapture the system of Eriston. On the way, by one of the hazards of war, the liner carrying the technicians was struck by a roving mine. A warship would have survived, but the liner with its irreplaceable cargo was totally destroyed. So the operation had to be abandoned.

The other expedition was, at first, more successful. There was no doubt at all that the Analyzer fulfilled its designers' claims, and the enemy was heavily defeated in the first engagements. He withdrew, leaving us in possession of Saphran, Leucon and Hexanerax. But his Intelligence Staff must have noted the change in our tactics and the inexplicable presence of a liner in the heart of our battlefleet. It must have noted, also, that our first fleet had been accompanied by a similar ship - and had withdrawn when it had been destroyed.

In the next engagement, the enemy used his superior numbers to launch an overwhelming attack on the Analyzer ship and its unarmed consort. The attack was made without regard to losses - both ships were, of course, very heavily protected - and it succeeded. The result was the virtual decapitation of the Fleet, since an effectual transfer to the old operational methods proved impossible. We disengaged under heavy fire, and so lost all our gains and also the systems of Lormyia, Ismarnus, Beronis, Alphanidon and Sideneus.

At this stage, Grand Admiral Taxaris expressed his disapproval of Norden by committing suicide, and I assumed supreme command.

The situation was now both serious and infuriating. With stubborn conservatism and complete lack of imagination, the enemy continued to advance with his old-fashioned and inefficient but now vastly more numerous ships. It was galling to realize that if we had only continued building, without seeking new weapons, we would have been in a far more advantageous position. There were many acrimonious conferences at which Norden defended the scientists while everyone else blamed them for all that had happened. The difficulty was that Norden had proved every one of his claims: he had a perfect excuse for all the disasters that had occurred. And we could not now turn back - the search for an irresistible weapon must go on. At first it had been a luxury that would shorten the war. Now it was a necessity if we were to end it victoriously.

We were on the defensive, and so was Norden. He was more than ever determined to reestablish his prestige and that of the Research Staff. But we had been twice disappointed, and would not make the same mistake again. No doubt Norden's twenty thousand scientists would produce many further weapons: we would remain unimpressed.

We were wrong. The final weapon was something so fantastic that even now it seems difficult to believe that it ever existed. Its innocent, noncommittal name - The Exponential Field - gave no hint of its real potentialities. Some of Norden's mathematicians had discovered it during a piece of entirely theoretical research into the properties of space, and to everyone's great surprise their results were found to be physically realizable.

It seems very difficult to explain the operation of the Field to the layman. According to the technical description, it "produces an exponential condition of space, so that a finite distance in normal, linear space may become infinite in pseudo-space." Norden gave an analogy which some of us found useful. It was as if one took a flat disk of rubber - representing a region of normal space - and then pulled its center out to infinity. The circumference of the disk would be unaltered - but its "diameter" would be infinite. That was the sort of thing the generator of the Field did to the space around it.

As an example, suppose that a ship carrying the generator was surrounded by a ring of hostile machines. If it switched on the Field, each of the enemy ships would think that it - and the ships on the far side of the circle - had suddenly receded into nothingness. Yet the circumference of the circle would be the same as before: only the journey to the center would be of infinite duration, for as one proceeded, distances would appear to become greater and greater as the "scale" of space altered.

It was a nightmare condition, but a very useful one. Nothing could reach a ship carrying the Field: it might be englobed by an enemy fleet yet would be as inaccessible as if it were at the other side of the Universe. Against this, of course, it could not fight back without switching off the Field, but this still left it at a very great advantage, not only in defense but in offense. For a ship fitted with the Field could approach an enemy fleet undetected and suddenly appear in its midst.

This time there seemed to be no flaws in the new weapon. Needless to say, we looked for all the possible objections before we committed ourselves again. Fortunately the equipment was fairly simple and did not require a large operating staff. After much debate, we decided to rush it into production, for we realized that time was running short and the war was going against us. We had now lost about the whole of our initial gains and enemy forces had made several raids into our own solar system.

We managed to hold off the enemy while the Fleet was reequipped and the new battle techniques were worked out. To use the Field operationally it was necessary to locate an enemy formation, set a course that would intercept it, and then switch on the generator for the calculated period of time. On releasing the Field again - if the calculations had been accurate - one would be in the enemy's midst and could do great damage during the resulting confusion, retreating by the same route when necessary.

The first trial maneuvers proved satisfactory and the equipment seemed quite reliable. Numerous mock attacks were made and the crews became accustomed to the new technique. I was on one of the test flights and can vividly remember my impressions as the Field was switched on. The ships around us seemed to dwindle as if on the surface of an expanding bubble: in an instant they had vanished completely. So had the stars - but presently we could see that the Galaxy was still visible as a faint band of light around the ship. The virtual radius of our pseudo-space was not really infinite, but some hundred thousand light-years, and so the distance to the farthest stars of our system had not been greatly increased - though the nearest had of course totally disappeared. These training maneuvers, however, had to be canceled before they were completed, owing to a whole flock of minor technical troubles in various pieces of equipment, notably the communications circuits. These were annoying, but not important, though it was thought best to return to Base to clear them up.

At that moment the enemy made what was obviously intended to be a decisive attack against the fortress planet of Iton at the limits of our Solar System. The Fleet had to go into battle before repairs could be made.

The enemy must have believed that we had mastered the secret of invisibility - as in a sense we had. Our ships appeared suddenly out of no-where and inflicted tremendous damage - for a while. And then something quite baffling and inexplicable happened.

I was in command of the flagship Hircania when the trouble started. We had been operating as independent units, each against assigned objectives. Our detectors observed an enemy formation at medium range and the navigating officers measured its distance with great accuracy. We set course and switched on the generator.

The Exponential Field was released at the moment when we should have been passing through the center of the enemy group. To our consternation, we emerged into normal space at a distance of many hundred miles - and when we found the enemy, he had already found us. We retreated, and tried again. This time we were so far away from the enemy that he located us first.

Obviously, something was seriously wrong. We broke communicator silence and tried to contact the other ships of the Fleet to see if they had experienced the same trouble. Once again we failed - and this time the failure was beyond all reason, for the communication equipment appeared to be working perfectly. We could only assume, fantastic though it seemed, that the rest of the Fleet had been destroyed.

I do not wish to describe the scenes when the scattered units of the Fleet struggled back to Base. Our casualties had actually been negligible, but the ships were completely demoralized. Almost all had lost touch with one another and had found that their ranging equipment showed inexplicable errors. It was obvious that the Exponential Field was the cause of the troubles, despite the fact that they were only apparent when it was switched off.

The explanation came too late to do us any good, and Norden's final discomfiture was small consolation for the virtual loss of the war. As I have explained, the Field generators produced a radial distortion of space, distances appearing greater and greater as one approached the center of the artificial pseudo-space. When the Field was switched off, conditions returned to normal.

But not quite. It was never possible to restore the initial state exactly. Switching the Field on and off was equivalent to an elongation and contraction of the ship carrying the generator, but there was a hysteretic effect, as it were, and the initial condition was never quite reproducible, owing to all the thousands of electrical changes and movements of mass aboard the ship while the Field was on. These asymmetries and distortions were cumulative, and though they seldom amounted to more than a fraction of one per cent, that was quite enough. It meant that the precision ranging equipment and the tuned circuits in the communication apparatus were thrown completely out of adjustment. Any single ship could never detect the change - only when it compared its equipment with that of another vessel, or tried to communicate with it, could it tell what had happened.

It is impossible to describe the resultant chaos. Not a single component of one ship could be expected with certainty to work aboard another. The very nuts and bolts were no longer interchangeable, and the supply position became quite impossible. Given time, we might even have overcome these difficulties, but the enemy ships were already attacking in thousands with weapons which now seemed centuries behind those that we had invented. Our magnificent Fleet, crippled by our own science, fought on as best it could until it was overwhelmed and forced to surrender. The ships fitted with the Field were still invulnerable, but as fighting units they were almost helpless. Every time they switched on their generators to escape from enemy attack, the permanent distortion of their equipment increased. In a month, it was all over.

THIS IS THE true story of our defeat, which I give without prejudice to my defense before this Court. I make it, as I have said, to counteract the libels that have been circulating against the men who fought under me, and to show where the true blame for our misfortunes lay.

Finally, my request, which as the Court will now realize I make in no frivolous manner and which I hope will therefore be granted.

The Court will be aware that the conditions under which we are housed and the constant surveillance to which we are subjected night and day are somewhat distressing. Yet I am not complaining of this: nor do I complain of the fact that shortage of accommodation has made it necessary to house us in pairs.

But I cannot be held responsible for my future actions if I am compelled any longer to share my cell with Professor Norden, late Chief of the Research Staff of my armed forces.



“The Veldt”


 


Ray Bradbury.


 


"George, I wish you'd look at the nursery."


"What's wrong with it?"


"I don't know."


"Well, then."


"I just want you  to look at it, is all, or call a  psychologist in to look at it."


"What would a psychologist want with a nursery?"


"You know very well what he'd want." His  wife  paused in the middle of the kitchen and  watched the stove busy humming to itself, making supper for four.


"It's just that the nursery is different now than it was."


"All right, let's have a look."


They  walked down the hall of their soundproofed Happylife  Home, which had  cost them thirty thousand  dollars  installed, this house which clothed and fed and rocked them to sleep and played and sang  and was good to  them. Their approach sensitized  a switch somewhere and the nursery  light flicked on when  they  came within ten  feet  of it. Similarly, behind them, in  the halls,  lights  went  on  and off  as they  left  them  behind, with a  soft automaticity.


"Well," said George Hadley.


 


They  stood  on the  thatched floor of the nursery. It  was  forty feet across by forty  feet long and thirty feet high;  it had cost half again as much as the rest  of the house. "But nothing's  too good for  our children," George had said. The nursery was  silent. It was  empty  as a jungle  glade at  hot high noon. The  walls  were blank  and two dimensional.  Now, as George and Lydia Hadley stood in  the center of the room, the walls  began to purr and recede into  crystalline  distance,  it  seemed, and  presently  an  African veldt appeared, in three  dimensions, on  all  sides, in color  reproduced to the final pebble and bit of straw. The ceiling above them became a deep sky with a hot yellow sun.


George Hadley felt the perspiration start on his brow.


"Let's get out of this sun," he said. "This is a little too real. But I don't see anything wrong."


"Wait a moment, you'll see," said his wife.


Now  the  hidden odorophonics were beginning to blow a wind  of odor at the two people in the  middle of the baked veldtland. The hot straw smell of lion grass, the cool green smell of the hidden  water  hole, the great rusty smell of animals, the  smell of dust like a red paprika in the  hot air. And now the sounds: the thump of distant antelope feet on grassy sod, the papery rustling of vultures. A shadow  passed through the sky. The shadow flickered on George Hadley's upturned, sweating face.


"Filthy creatures," he heard his wife say.


"The vultures."


"You see, there are the lions, far over, that way. Now they're on their way to the water hole. They've just been eating," said Lydia. "I  don't know what."


"Some animal." George Hadley put his hand up to shield  off the burning light from his squinted eyes. "A zebra or a baby giraffe, maybe."


"Are you sure?" His wife sounded peculiarly tense.


"No, it's a little late to be  sure,"  be  said, amused.  "Nothing over there I  can  see but cleaned  bone, and  the vultures dropping  for  what's left."


"Did you bear that scream?" she asked.


'No."


"About a minute ago?"


"Sorry, no."


The  lions  were  coming.  And  again George  Hadley  was  filled  with admiration for the mechanical  genius who had conceived this room. A miracle of efficiency selling for an absurdly low price. Every home should have one. Oh,  occasionally  they  frightened  you with their clinical accuracy,  they startled you, gave you a twinge, but most of the time what fun for everyone, not only  your own  son and daughter, but for  you self when you felt like a quick jaunt to a foreign land, a quick change of scenery. Well, here it was!


And here were the lions now, fifteen  feet away, so real, so feverishly and startlingly real that you could feel the prickling fur on your hand, and your  mouth was stuffed  with the dusty upholstery  smell  of  their  heated pelts, and  the  yellow  of  them  was in your  eyes like the yellow  of  an exquisite French  tapestry, the yellows of  lions and  summer grass, and the sound  of  the matted lion lungs  exhaling on  the silent noontide,  and the smell of meat from the panting, dripping mouths.


The lions  stood  looking  at  George  and Lydia  Hadley with  terrible green-yellow eyes.


"Watch out!" screamed Lydia.


The lions came running at them.


Lydia bolted and ran. Instinctively,  George sprang after her. Outside, in the hall, with the door slammed he was laughing  and she was crying,  and they both stood appalled at the other's reaction.


"George!"


"Lydia! Oh, my dear poor sweet Lydia!"


"They almost got us!"


Walls, Lydia, remember; crystal  walls, that's all they are. Oh,  they look real,  I must admit - Africa in your parlor - but it's all dimensional, superreactionary,  supersensitive  color  film and  mental  tape film behind glass  screens.  It's  all  odorophonics  and   sonics,   Lydia.  Here's  my handkerchief."


 


"I'm afraid." She  came to him  and put  her body against him and cried steadily. "Did you see? Did you feel? It's too real."


"Now, Lydia..."


"You've got to tell Wendy and Peter not to read any more on Africa."


"Of course - of course." He patted her.


"Promise?"


"Sure."


"And lock the nursery for a few days until I get my nerves settled."


"You  know  how difficult  Peter is  about that. When  I punished him a month  ago  by locking  the  nursery for even  a few hours - the tantrum  be threw! And Wendy too. They live for the nursery."


"It's got to be locked, that's all there is to it."


"All right." Reluctantly  he locked the huge door. "You've been working too hard. You need a rest."


"I don't know - I don't know," she said, blowing her nose, sitting down in a  chair that immediately began to rock and comfort  her. "Maybe  I don't have enough to do. Maybe I have time to think  too  much. Why  don't we shut the whole house off for a few days and take a vacation?"


"You mean you want to fry my eggs for me?"


"Yes." She nodded.


"And dam my socks?"


"Yes." A frantic, watery-eyed nodding.


"And sweep the house?"


"Yes, yes - oh, yes!''


"But I thought that's why  we bought this house, so we wouldn't have to do anything?"


"That's just it. I feel like I don't belong here. The house is wife and mother now, and nursemaid. Can I compete with an African veldt? Can I give a bath and scrub the children as efficiently or quickly as the automatic scrub bath can?  I  cannot.  And it isn't just me. It's you. You've  been  awfully nervous lately."


"I suppose I have been smoking too much."


"You look as if you didn't know what to do with yourself in this house, either. You smoke a little more every morning and drink a  little more every afternoon and  need a  little more sedative every night. You're beginning to feel unnecessary too."


"Am I?" He paused and tried to feel into himself to see what was really there.


"Oh, George!"  She looked beyond him, at the nursery door. "Those lions can't get out of there, can they?"


He  looked at the  door  and saw it tremble as if something  had jumped  against it from the other side.


"Of course not," he said.


 


At dinner they ate alone, for Wendy and Peter were at a special plastic carnival  across town and bad televised  home to say  they'd be  late, to go ahead eating. So George  Hadley, bemused, sat watching the dining-room table produce warm dishes of food from its mechanical interior.


"We forgot the ketchup," he said.


"Sorry," said a small voice within the table, and ketchup appeared.


As  for the nursery,  thought  George  Hadley,  it won't  hurt for  the children to be locked out of it awhile. Too much of anything  isn't good for anyone. And  it was clearly indicated that the  children had been spending a little too  much time on  Africa.  That sun. He could feel  it on  his neck, still, like a hot paw. And the lions. And the smell of blood. Remarkable how the nursery  caught the telepathic emanations  of the  children's minds  and created  life to  fill their  every desire. The children thought  lions, and there were lions. The children thought  zebras, and there were zebras. Sun - sun. Giraffes - giraffes. Death and death.


That last. He chewed tastelessly on the meat that the table bad cut for him. Death thoughts.  They  were awfully young, Wendy and  Peter, for  death thoughts.  Or,  no, you were never too young, really.  Long before  you knew what death was you were wishing it on someone else. When  you were two years old you were shooting people with cap pistols.


But this - the long, hot African veldt-the awful death in the jaws of a lion. And repeated again and again.


"Where are you going?"


He  didn't answer Lydia. Preoccupied,  be let the lights glow softly on ahead of him, extinguish behind  him as he  padded  to the nursery  door. He listened against it. Far away, a lion roared.


He unlocked  the door and opened it. Just before he stepped inside,  he heard a faraway scream. And then another roar from the lions, which subsided quickly.


He stepped into Africa. How  many  times in the last year had he opened this door and found Wonderland, Alice, the Mock  Turtle, or  Aladdin and his Magical  Lamp,  or Jack  Pumpkinhead of Oz,  or  Dr. Doolittle,  or  the cow jumping over a very real-appearing moon-all the delightful contraptions of a make-believe world. How often had he seen Pegasus flying in the sky ceiling, or seen fountains of red fireworks, or heard  angel voices singing. But now, is yellow hot Africa, this bake oven with  murder in the heat. Perhaps Lydia was right. Perhaps  they needed a little vacation from the fantasy which was growing a  bit  too  real for ten-year-old  children.  It  was  all right to exercise one's mind with gymnastic fantasies, but when the lively child mind settled  on one  pattern...  ? It seemed  that, at a  distance, for the past month, he had heard lions roaring, and smelled their strong  odor seeping as far away as his study door. But, being busy, he had paid it no attention.


George Hadley stood on the African grassland alone. The lions looked up from their feeding, watching him. The only flaw to the illusion was the open door  through which  he could see his wife, far down the dark  hall, like  a framed picture, eating her dinner abstractedly.


"Go away," he said to the lions.


They did not go.


He knew the principle of the room exactly.  You sent out your thoughts. Whatever you thought would appear.  "Let's  have Aladdin  and  his lamp," he snapped. The veldtland remained; the lions remained.


"Come on, room! I demand Aladin!" he said.


Nothing happened. The lions mumbled in their baked pelts.


Aladin!"


He  went back  to  dinner. "The fool room's out of order," he said. "It won't respond."


"Or--"


"Or what?"


"Or  it can't  respond," said Lydia, "because the children have thought about Africa and lions and killing so many days that the room's in a rut."


"Could be."


"Or Peter's set it to remain that way."


"Set it?"


"He may have got into the machinery and fixed something."


"Peter doesn't know machinery."


"He's a wise one for ten. That I.Q. of his -"


"Nevertheless -"


"Hello, Mom. Hello, Dad."


The  Hadleys  turned. Wendy and Peter  were coming  in the front  door, cheeks like  peppermint candy, eyes like bright blue agate marbles,  a smell of ozone on their jumpers from their trip in the helicopter.


"You're just in time for supper," said both parents.


"We're full of strawberry  ice cream and  hot dogs," said the children, holding hands. "But we'll sit and watch."


"Yes, come tell us about the nursery," said George Hadley.


The  brother  and  sister  blinked  at  him  and then  at  each  other. "Nursery?"


"All  about  Africa  and  everything,"  said  the   father  with  false joviality.


"I don't understand," said Peter.


"Your  mother and  I were  just traveling through Africa  with rod  and reel; Tom Swift and his Electric Lion," said George Hadley.


"There's no Africa in the nursery," said Peter simply.


"Oh, come now, Peter. We know better."


"I don't remember any Africa," said Peter to Wendy. "Do you?"


"No."


"Run see and come tell."


She obeyed


"Wendy,  come  back here!"  said George Hadley,  but she was gone.  The house lights followed her like a  flock of fireflies.  Too late, he realized he had forgotten to lock the nursery door after his last inspection.


"Wendy'll look and come tell us," said Peter.


"She doesn't have to tell me. I've seen it."


"I'm sure you're mistaken, Father."


"I'm not, Peter. Come along now."


But Wendy was back. "It's not Africa," she said breathlessly.


"We'll  see about this," said George  Hadley, and they all  walked down the hall together and opened the nursery door.


There  was  a green, lovely forest, a lovely river, a purple  mountain, high voices  singing, and  Rima, lovely and mysterious, lurking in the trees with  colorful flights of butterflies, like animated bouquets,  lingering in her  long  hair. The African veldtland  was gone. The lions were  gone. Only Rima was here now, singing a song so beautiful that it brought tears to your eyes.


George Hadley  looked in at the changed scene. "Go to bed," he said  to the children.


They opened their mouths.


"You heard me," he said.


They  went off to the  air  closet, where a wind sucked them like brown leaves up the flue to their slumber rooms.


George Hadley walked  through the singing glade and picked up something that lay in  the comer near where the  lions had been. He walked slowly back to his wife.


"What is that?" she asked.


"An old wallet of mine," he said.


He showed it to her. The smell  of hot grass was on it and the smell of a lion. There were drops of saliva on it, it bad been chewed, and there were blood smears on both sides.


He closed the nursery door and locked it, tight.


 


     In the middle of the night he was still awake and he knew  his wife was awake. "Do you think Wendy changed it?" she said at last, in the dark room.


     "Of course."


     "Made it from  a  veldt into a forest  and put  Rima  there instead  of lions?"


     "Yes."


     "Why?"


     "I don't know. But it's staying locked until I find out."


     "How did your wallet get there?"


     "I don't  know  anything,"  he said, "except that I'm  beginning  to be sorry we bought that room for the children. If children are neurotic at all, a room like that -"


     "It's  supposed to help them work  off  their  neuroses in a  healthful way."


     "I'm starting to wonder." He stared at the ceiling.


     "We've  given  the children everything they ever  wanted. Is  this  our reward-secrecy, disobedience?"


     "Who was it  said,  'Children are  carpets,  they should be  stepped on occasionally'? We've never lifted a hand. They're insufferable - let's admit it. They  come and go when they like; they treat us as if we were offspring. They're spoiled and we're spoiled."


     "They've been  acting funny ever since you  forbade them  to  take  the rocket to New York a few months ago."


     "They're not old enough to do that alone, I explained."


     "Nevertheless,  I've  noticed  they've been  decidedly  cool toward  us since."


     "I think I'll have  David McClean come tomorrow morning to have  a look at Africa."


     "But it's not Africa now, it's Green Mansions country and Rima."


     "I have a feeling it'll be Africa again before then."


     A moment later they heard the screams.


     Two screams. Two people screaming from  downstairs. And then  a roar of lions.


     "Wendy and Peter aren't in their rooms," said his wife.


     He lay  in  his bed  with his beating  heart. "No," he  said.  "They've broken into the nursery."


     "Those screams - they sound familiar."


     "Do they?"


     "Yes, awfully."


     And although  their beds tried very  bard, the two  adults  couldn't be rocked to sleep for another hour. A smell of cats was in the night air.


 


     "Father?" said Peter.


     "Yes."


     Peter looked at his shoes. He never looked  at his father any more, nor at his mother. "You aren't going to lock up the nursery for good, are you?"


     "That all depends."


     "On what?" snapped Peter.


     "On you and your sister. If you  intersperse this  Africa with a little variety - oh, Sweden perhaps, or Denmark or China -"


     "I thought we were free to play as we wished."


     "You are, within reasonable bounds."


     "What's wrong with Africa, Father?"


     "Oh, so now you admit you have been conjuring up Africa, do you?"


     "I wouldn't want the nursery locked up," said Peter coldly. "Ever."


     "Matter  of  fact, we're thinking of  turning  the whole house  off for about a month. Live sort of a carefree one-for-all existence."


     "That  sounds  dreadful! Would I have  to tie my own shoes  instead  of letting the shoe tier do it? And brush my own teeth and  comb  my  hair  and give myself a bath?"


     "It would be fun for a change, don't you think?"


     "No, it would be horrid. I didn't like it when you took out the picture painter last month."


     "That's because I wanted you to learn to paint all by yourself, son."


     "I don't want to do anything but look and listen and  smell;  what else is there to do?"


     "All right, go play in Africa."


     "Will you shut off the house sometime soon?"


     "We're considering it."


     "I don't think you'd better consider it any more, Father."


     "I won't have any threats from my son!"


     "Very well." And Peter strolled off to the nursery.


 


     "Am I on time?" said David McClean.


     "Breakfast?" asked George Hadley.


     "Thanks, had some. What's the trouble?"


     "David, you're a psychologist."


     "I should hope so."


     "Well, then, have a look at our nursery. You saw it a year ago when you dropped by; did you notice anything peculiar about it then?"


     "Can't  say  I did;  the  usual violences, a  tendency toward  a slight paranoia  here or there, usual in children  because they feel  persecuted by parents constantly, but, oh, really nothing."


     They walked down the  ball.  "I  locked the nursery  up," explained the father, "and  the children broke back  into it during  the night. I let them stay so they could form the patterns for you to see."


     There was a terrible screaming from the nursery.


     "There it is," said George Hadley. "See what you make of it."


     They walked in on the children without rapping.


     The screams had faded. The lions were feeding.


     "Run outside a moment, children," said George Hadley. "No, don't change the mental combination. Leave the walls as they are. Get!"


     With the children gone, the two men stood  studying the lions clustered at a distance, eating with great relish whatever it was they had caught.


     "I wish I  knew  what  it was," said  George  Hadley.  "Sometimes I can almost see. Do you think if I brought high-powered binoculars here and -"


     David  McClean  laughed dryly.  "Hardly." He turned to study  all  four walls. "How long has this been going on?"


     "A little over a month."


     "It certainly doesn't feel good."


     "I want facts, not feelings."


     "My dear George, a psychologist never  saw a fact in  his life. He only hears  about  feelings; vague  things.  This doesn't feel good, I  tell you. Trust my hunches and my instincts. I have a nose for something bad.  This is very bad. My advice to you is to have the whole damn room torn down and your children brought to me every day during the next year for treatment."


     "Is it that bad?"


     "I'm afraid so. One of the original uses of these nurseries was so that we could study the patterns left on the  walls by the child's mind, study at our leisure, and  help the child. In this case, however, the room has become a channel toward-destructive thoughts, instead of a release away from them."


     "Didn't you sense this before?"


     "I sensed  only that you bad spoiled your children more  than most. And now you're letting them down in some way. What way?"


     "I wouldn't let them go to New York."


     "What else?"


     "I've taken a few machines from the house and  threatened them, a month ago, with closing up the nursery unless they did their homework. I did close it for a few days to show I meant business."


     "Ah, ha!"


     "Does that mean anything?"


     "Everything.  Where  before  they  had  a Santa Claus now they  have  a Scrooge. Children prefer Santas. You've let this room and this house replace you  and your wife in  your children's affections. This room is their mother and  father, far more important in their lives than their  real parents. And now you come along  and want to shut it off. No wonder there's hatred  here. You can feel it coming out of the sky. Feel that sun. George, you'll have to change  your life.  Like too  many others,  you've built it  around creature comforts.  Why,  you'd starve  tomorrow  if  something  went  wrong in  your kitchen. You wouldn't know  bow to tap an egg. Nevertheless, turn everythingoff. Start new. It'll take time. But we'll make good children out of bad  in a year, wait and see."


     "But won't the shock be too much for the children, shutting the room up abruptly, for good?"


     "I don't want them going any deeper into this, that's all."


     The lions were finished with their red feast.


     The lions were standing on the edge of  the  clearing watching the  two men.


     "Now I'm feeling persecuted,"  said McClean. "Let's  get out of here. I never have cared for these damned rooms. Make me nervous."


     "The  lions look real, don't they?" said George Hadley. I don't suppose there's any way -"


     "What?"


     "- that they could become real?"


     "Not that I know."


     "Some flaw in the machinery, a tampering or something?"


     "No."


     They went to the door.


     "I don't imagine the room will like being turned off," said the father.


     "Nothing ever likes to die - even a room."


     "I wonder if it hates me for wanting to switch it off?"


     "Paranoia  is thick around  here  today,"  said David McClean. "You can follow it like a spoor. Hello." He bent  and picked up a bloody scarf. "This yours?"


     "No." George Hadley's face was rigid. "It belongs to Lydia."


     They went to the fuse box together and threw the switch that killed the nursery.


 


     The two children were in hysterics. They screamed and pranced and threw things. They yelled and sobbed and swore and jumped at the furniture.


     "You can't do that to the nursery, you can't!''


     "Now, children."


     The children flung themselves onto a couch, weeping.


     "George,"  said  Lydia  Hadley,  "turn  on the nursery, just for a  few moments. You can't be so abrupt."


     "No."


     "You can't be so cruel..."


     "Lydia, it's off, and it stays off. And the whole damn house dies as of here and now. The more I see of the mess we've put ourselves in, the more it sickens me.  We've been contemplating  our mechanical, electronic navels for too long. My God, how we need a breath of honest air!"


     And he  marched  about  the house turning  off the  voice  clocks,  the stoves,  the heaters, the shoe  shiners, the shoe lacers, the body scrubbers and  swabbers and massagers, and  every other machine be could put  his hand to.


     The house was full of dead bodies, it seemed. It felt like a mechanical cemetery. So silent. None of the  humming hidden energy  of machines waiting to function at the tap of a button.


     "Don't let  them  do  it!" wailed Peter  at  the ceiling,  as if he was talking to  the house, the nursery. "Don't  let Father kill  everything." He turned to his father. "Oh, I hate you!"


     "Insults won't get you anywhere."


     "I wish you were dead!"


     "We were, for  a  long while. Now  we're going to really  start living. Instead of being handled and massaged, we're going to live."


     Wendy was still crying and Peter joined her again. "Just a moment, just one moment, just another moment of nursery," they wailed.


     "Oh, George," said the wife, "it can't hurt."


     "All right - all  right, if they'll just shut up. One minute, mind you, and then off forever."


     "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!" sang the children, smiling with wet faces.


     "And then  we're going on a  vacation. David McClean  is coming back in half an hour to help us move out and get to the airport. I'm going to dress. You turn the nursery on for a minute, Lydia, just a minute, mind you."


     And  the  three of  them  went  babbling  off while he  let  himself be vacuumed upstairs through the air  flue  and set about  dressing himself.  A minute later Lydia appeared.


     "I'll be glad when we get away," she sighed.


     "Did you leave them in the nursery?"


     "I wanted  to dress  too. Oh,  that horrid Africa. What can they see in it?"


     "Well, in five minutes we'll be on our way  to  Iowa.  Lord, how did we ever get in this house? What prompted us to buy a nightmare?"


     "Pride, money, foolishness."


     "I  think  we'd  better  get downstairs before those kids get engrossed with those damned beasts again."


     Just then they heard the children calling, "Daddy,  Mommy, come quick - quick!"


     They  went  downstairs  in the  air  flue and  ran down  the  hall. The children were nowhere in sight. "Wendy? Peter!"


     They ran into the nursery. The  veldtland was empty  save for the lions waiting, looking at them. "Peter, Wendy?"


     The door slammed.


     "Wendy, Peter!"


     George Hadley and his wife whirled and ran back to the door.


     "Open the door!" cried George Hadley, trying  the knob.  "Why,  they've locked it from the outside! Peter!" He beat at the door. "Open up!"


     He heard Peter's voice outside, against the door.


     "Don't let them switch off the nursery and the house," he was saying.


     Mr. and Mrs. George Hadley beat at the door. "Now, don't be ridiculous, children. It's time to go. Mr. McClean'll be here in a minute and..."


     And then they heard the sounds.


     The lions on three  sides  of them, in  the yellow veldt grass, padding through the dry straw, rumbling and roaring in their throats.


     The lions.


     Mr. Hadley looked at his  wife and  they turned  and looked back at the beasts edging slowly forward crouching, tails stiff.


     Mr. and Mrs. Hadley screamed.


     And  suddenly  they  realized  why  those  other  screams  bad  sounded familiar.


 


     "Well, here I  am,"  said David  McClean in the  nursery  doorway, "Oh, hello." He stared at the two children seated in the center of the open glade eating a little picnic lunch. Beyond them  was the water hole and the yellow veldtland; above  was the hot sun. He  began to  perspire.  "Where  are your father and mother?"


     The children looked up and smiled. "Oh, they'll be here directly."


     "Good,  we  must get  going."  At a distance  Mr. McClean saw the lions fighting  and clawing and  then quieting  down to  feed in silence under the nshady trees.


     He squinted at the lions with his hand tip to his eyes.


     Now the lions were done feeding. They moved to the water hole to drink.


     A shadow flickered over Mr. McClean's hot face. Many shadows flickered. The vultures were dropping down the blazing sky.


     "A cup of tea?" asked Wendy in the silence.

“The Man Who Traveled in Elephants”

 

Robert A. Heinlein 

 

Rain streamed across the bus's window. John Watts peered out at wooded hills, content despite the weather. As long as he was rolling, moving, traveling, the ache of loneliness was somewhat quenched. He could close his eyes and imagine that Martha was seated beside him.  

They had always traveled together; they had honeymooned covering his sales territory. In time they had covered the entire country-Route 66, with the Indians' booths by the highway, Route 1, up through the District, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, zipping in and out through the mountain tunnels, himself hunched over the wheel and Martha beside him, handling the maps and figuring the mileage to their next stop.  

He recalled one of Martha's friends saying, "But, dear, don't you get tired of it?"  

He could hear Martha's bubbly laugh, "With forty-eight wide and wonderful states to see, grow tired? Besides, there is always something new-fairs and expositions and things."  

"But when you've seen one fair you've seen them all."  

"You think there is no difference between the Santa Barbara Fiesta and the Fort Worth Fat Stock Show? Anyhow," Martha had gone on, "Johnny and I are country cousins; we like to stare at the tall buildings and get freckles on the roofs of our mouths."  

"Do be sensible, Martha." The woman had turned to him. "John, isn't it time that you two were settling down and making something out of your lives?"  

Such people tired him. "It's for the 'possums," he had told her solemnly. "They like to travel."  

"The opossums? What in the world is he talking about, Martha?"  

Martha had shot him a private glance, then dead-panned, "Oh, I'm sorry! You see, Johnny raises baby 'possums in his umbilicus."  

"I'm equipped for it," he had confirmed, patting his round stomach.  

That had settled her hash! He had never been able to stand people who gave advice "for your own good."  

Martha had read somewhere that a litter of newborn opossums would no more than fill a teaspoon and that as many as six in a litter were often orphans through lack of facilities in mother 'possum's pouch to take care of them all.  

They had immediately formed the Society for the Rescue and Sustenance of the Other Six 'Possums, and Johnny himself had been unanimously selected-by Martha-as the site of Father Johnny's 'Possum Town.  

They had had other imaginary pets, too. Martha and he had hoped for children; when none came, their family had filled out with invisible little animals: Mr. Jenkins, the little gray burro who advised them about motels, Chipmink the chattering chipmunk, who lived in the glove compartment, Mus Followalongus the traveling mouse, who never said anything but who would bite unexpectedly, especially around Martha's knees.  

They were all gone now; they had gradually faded away for lack of Martha's gay, infectious spirit to keep them in health. Even Bindlestiff, who was not invisible, was no longer with him. Bindlestiff was a dog they had picked up beside the road, far out in the desert, given water and succor and received in return his large uncritical heart. Bindlestiff had traveled with them thereafter, until he, too, had been called away, shortly after Martha.  

John Watts wondered about Bindlestiff. Did he roam free in the Dog Star, in a land lush with rabbits and uncovered garbage pails? More likely he was with Martha, sitting on her feet and getting in the way. Johnny hoped so.  

He sighed and turned his attention to the passengers. A thin, very elderly woman leaned across the aisle and said, "Going to the fair, young man?"  

He started. It was twenty years since anyone had called him "young man." "Unh? Yes, certainly." They were all going to the Fair: the bus was a special.  

"You like going to fairs?"  

"Very much." He knew that her inane remarks were formal gambits to start a conversation. He did not resent it; lonely old women have need of talk with strangers-and so did he. Besides, he liked perky old women. They seemed the very spirit of America to him, putting him in mind of church sociables and farm kitchens-and covered wagons.  

"I like fairs, too," she went on. "I even used to exhibit-quince jelly and my Crossing-the-Jordan pattern."  

"Blue ribbons, I'll bet."  

"Some," she admitted, "but mostly I just liked to go to them. I'm Mrs. Alma Hill Evans. Mr. Evans was a great one for doings. Take the exposition when they opened the Panama Canal-but you wouldn't remember that."  

John Watts admitted that he had not been there.  

"It wasn't the best of the lot, anyway. The Fair of '93, there was a fair for you: There'll never be one that'll even be a patch on that one." 

 "Until this one, perhaps?"  

"This one? Pish and tush! Size isn't everything." The All-American Exposition would certainly be the biggest thing yet-and the best. If only Martha were along, it would seem like heaven. The old lady changed the subject. "You're a traveling man, aren't you?"  

He hesitated, then answered, "Yes."  

"I can always tell. What line are you in, young man?"  

He hesitated longer, then said flatly, "I travel in elephants."  

She looked at him sharply and he wanted to explain, but loyalty to Martha kept his mouth shut. Martha had insisted that they treat their calling seriously, never explaining, never apologizing. They had taken it up when he had planned to retire; they had been talking of getting an acre of ground and doing something useful with radishes or rabbits, or such. Then, during their final trip over his sales route, Martha had announced after a long silence. "John, you don't want to stop traveling."  

"Eh? Don't I? You mean we should keep the territory?"  

"No, that's done. But we won't settle down, either."  

"What do you want to do? Just gypsy around?"  

"Not exactly. I think we need some new line to travel in."  

"Hardware? Shoes? Ladies' ready-to-wear?"  

"No." She had stopped to think. "We ought to travel in something. It gives point to your movements. I think it ought to be something that doesn't turn over too fast, so that we could have a really large territory, say the whole United States."  

"Battleships perhaps?"  

"Battleships are out of date, but that's close." Then they had passed a barn with a tattered circus poster. "I've got it!" She had shouted. "Elephants! We'll travel in elephants."  

"Elephants, eh? Rather hard to carry samples."  

"We don't need to. Everybody knows what an elephant looks like. Isn't that right, Mr. Jenkins?"  The invisible burro had agreed with Martha, as he always did; the matter was settled.  

Martha had known just how to go about it. "First we make a survey. We'll have to comb the United States from corner to corner before we'll be ready to take orders." 

 For ten years they had conducted the survey. It was an excuse to visit every fair, zoo, exposition, stock show, circus, or punkin doings anywhere, for were they not all prospective customers? Even national parks and other natural wonders were included in the survey, for how was one to tell where a pressing need for an elephant might turn up? Martha had treated the matter with a straight face and had kept a dog-eared notebook: "La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles-surplus of elephants, obsolete type, in these parts about 25,000 years ago." "Philadelphia-sell at least six to the Union League." "Brookfield Zoo, Chicago-African elephants, rare." "Gallup, New Mexico- stone elephants east of town, very beautiful." "Riverside, California, Elephant Barbershop-brace owner to buy mascot." "Portland, Oregon-query Douglas Fir Association. Recite Road to Mandalay. Same for Southern Pine group. N.B. this calls for trip to Gulf Coast as soon as we finish with rodeo in Laramie."  

Ten years and they had enjoyed every mile of it. The survey was still unfinished when Martha had been taken. John wondered if she had buttonholed Saint Peter about the elephant situation in the Holy City. He'd bet a nickel she had.  

But he could not admit to a stranger that traveling in elephants was just his wife's excuse for traveling around the country they loved.  

The old woman did not press the matter. "I knew a man once who sold mongooses," she said cheerfully. "Or is it 'mongeese'? He had been in the exterminator business and-what does that driver think he is doing?"  

The big bus had been rolling along easily despite the driving rain. Now it was swerving, skidding. It lurched sickeningly-and crashed.  

John Watts banged his head against the seat in front. He was picking himself up, dazed, not too sure where he was, when Mrs. Evans' thin, confident soprano oriented him. "Nothing to get excited about, folks. I've been expecting this-and you can see it didn't hurt a bit."  

John Watts admitted that he himself was unhurt. He peered near-sightedly around, then fumbled on the sloping floor for his glasses. He found them, broken. He shrugged and put them aside; once they arrived he could dig a spare pair out of his bags.  

"Now let's see what has happened," Mrs. Evans went on. "Come along, young man." He followed obediently.  

The right wheel of the bus leaned drunkenly against the curb of the approach to a bridge. The driver was standing in the rain, dabbing at a cut on his cheek. "I couldn't help it," he was saying.  "A dog ran across the road and I tried to avoid it."  

"You might have killed us!" a woman complained.  

"Don't cry till you're hurt," advised Mrs. Evans. "Now let's get back into the bus while the driver phones for someone to pick us up." 

 John Watts hung back to peer over the side of the canyon spanned by the bridge. The ground dropped away steeply; almost under him were large, mean-looking rocks. He shivered and got back into the bus.  

The relief car came along very promptly, or else he must have dozed. The latter, he decided, for the rain had stopped and the sun was breaking through the clouds. The relief driver thrust his head in the door and shouted, "Come on, folks! Time's a-wastin'! Climb out and climb in."  Hurrying, John stumbled as he got aboard. The new driver gave him a hand. "'Smatter, Pop? Get shaken up?"  

"I'm all right, thanks."  

"Sure you are. Never better."  

He found a seat by Mrs. Evans, who smiled and said, "Isn't it a heavenly day?"  

He agreed. It was a beautiful day, now that the storm had broken. Great fleecy clouds tumbling up into warm blue sky, a smell of clean wet pavement, drenched fields and green things growing- he lay back and savored it. While he was soaking it up a great double rainbow formed and blazed in the eastern sky. He looked at them and made two wishes, one for himself and one for Martha. The rainbows' colors seemed to be reflected in everything he saw. Even the other passengers seemed younger, happier, better dressed, now that the sun was out. He felt light-hearted, almost free from his aching loneliness.  

They were there in jig time; the new driver more than made up the lost minutes. A great arch stretched across the road: THE ALL-AMERICAN CELEBRATION AND EXPOSITION OF ARTS and under it PEACE AND GOOD WILL TO ALL. They drove through and sighed to a stop.  

Mrs. Evans hopped up. "Got a date-must run!" She trotted to the door, then called back, "See you on the midway, young man," and disappeared in the crowd.  

John Watts got out last and turned to speak to the driver. "Oh, uh, about my baggage. I want to -"  

The driver had started his engine again. "Don't worry about your baggage," he called out. "You'll be taken care of." The huge bus moved away.  

"But -- " John Watts stopped; the bus was gone. All very well-but what was he to do without his glasses?  

But there were sounds of carnival behind him, that decided him. After all, he thought, tomorrow will do. If anything is too far away for me to see, I can always walk closer. He joined the queue at the gate and went in.  

It was undeniably the greatest show ever assembled for the wonderment of mankind. It was twice as big as all outdoors, brighter than bright lights, newer than new, stupendous, magnificent, breathtaking, awe inspiring, supercolossal, incredible-and a lot of fun. Every community in America had sent its own best to this amazing show. The marvels of P. T. Barnum, of Ripley, and of all Tom Edison's godsons had been gathered in one spot. From up and down a broad continent the riches of a richly endowed land and the products of a clever and industrious people had been assembled, along with their folk festivals, their annual blowouts, their celebrations, and their treasured carnival customs. The result was as American as strawberry shortcake and as gaudy as a Christmas tree, and it all lay there before him, noisy and full of life and crowded with happy, holiday people.  

Johnny Watts took a deep breath and plunged into it.  

He started with the Fort Worth Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show and spent an hour admiring gentle, white-faced steers, as wide and square as flat-topped desks, scrubbed and curried, with their hair parted neatly from skull to base of spine, then day-old little black lambs on rubbery stalks of legs, too new to know themselves, fat ewes, their broad backs, paddled flatter and flatter by grave-eyed boys intent on blue ribbons. Next door he found the Pomona Fair with solid matronly Percherons and dainty Palominos from the Kellog Ranch.  

And harness racing. Martha and he had always loved harness racing. He picked out a likely looking nag of the famous Dan Patch line, bet and won, then moved on, as there was so much more to see. Other country fairs were just beyond, apples from Yakima, the cherry festival from Beaumont and Banning, Georgia's peaches. Somewhere off beyond him a band was beating out, "Ioway, Ioway, that's where the tall corn grows!"  

Directly in front of him was a pink cotton candy booth.  

Martha had loved the stuff. Whether at Madison Square Garden or at Imperial County's fair grounds she had always headed first for the cotton candy booth. "The big size, honey?" he muttered to himself. He felt that if he were to look around he would see her nodding. "The large size, please," he said to the vendor.  

The carnie was elderly, dressed in a frock coat and stiff shirt. He handled the pink gossamer with dignified grace. "Certainly, sir, there is no other size." He twirled the paper cornucopia and presented it. Johnny handed him a half dollar. The man flexed and opened his fingers; the coin disappeared. That appeared to end the matter.  

"The candy is fifty cents?" Johnny asked diffidently.  

"Not at all, sir." The old showman plucked the coin from Johnny's lapel and handed it back. "On the house-I see you are with it. After all, what is money?"  

"Why, thank you, but, uh, I'm not really 'with it,' you know."  

The old man shrugged. "If you wish to go incognito, who am I to dispute you? But your money is no good here."  

"Uh, if you say so."  

"You will see."  

He felt something brush against his leg. It was a dog of the same breed, or lack of breed, as Bindlestiff had been. It looked amazingly like Bindlestiff. The dog looked up and waggled its whole body.  

"Why, hello, old fellow!" He patted it-then his eyes blurred; it even felt like Bindlestiff. "Are you lost, boy? Well, so am I. Maybe we had better stick together, eh? Are you hungry?"  

The dog licked his hand. He turned to the cotton candy man. "Where can I buy hot dogs?"  

"Just across the way, sir."  

He thanked him, whistled to the dog, and hurried across. "A half dozen hot dogs, please."  

"Coming up! Just mustard, or everything on?"  

"Oh, I'm sorry. I want them raw, they are for a dog."  

"I getcha. Just a sec."  

Presently he was handed six wienies, wrapped in paper. "How much are they?"  

"Compliments of the house."  

"I beg pardon?"  

"Every dog has his day. This is his."  

"Oh. Well, thank you." He became aware of increased noise and excitement behind him and looked around to see the first of the floats of the Priests of Pallas, from Kansas City, coming down the street. His friend the dog saw it, too, and began to bark.  

"Quiet, old fellow." He started to unwrap the meat. Someone whistled across the way; the dog darted between the floats and was gone. Johnny tried to follow, but was told to wait until the parade had passed. Between floats he caught glimpses of the dog, leaping up on a lady across the way. What with the dazzling lights of the floats and his own lack of glasses he could not see her clearly, but it was plain that the dog knew her; he was greeting her with the all-out enthusiasm only a dog can achieve.  

He held up the package and tried to shout to her; she waved back, but the band music and the noise of the crowd made it impossible to hear each other. He decided to enjoy the parade, then cross and find the pooch and its mistress as soon as the last float had passed.  

It seemed to him the finest Priests of Pallas parade he had ever seen. Come to think about it, there hadn't been a Priests of Pallas parade in a good many years. Must have revived it just for this.  

That was like Kansas City-a grand town. He didn't know of any he liked as well. Possibly Seattle. And New Orleans, of course.  

And Duluth-Duluth was swell. And so was Memphis. He would like to own a bus someday that ran from Memphis to Saint Joe, from Natchez to Mobile, wherever the wide winds blow.  

Mobile-there was a town.  

The parade was past now, with a swarm of small boys tagging after it. He hurried across.  The lady was not there, neither she, nor the dog. He looked quite thoroughly. No dog. No lady with a dog.  

He wandered off, his eyes alert for marvels, but his thoughts on the dog. It really had been a great deal like Bindlestiff...and he wanted to know the lady it belonged to-anyone who could love that sort of a dog must be a pretty good sort herself. Perhaps he could buy her ice cream, or persuade her to go the midway with him. Martha would approve he was sure. Martha would know he wasn't up to anything.  

Anyhow, no one ever took a little fat man seriously.  

But there was too much going on to worry about it. He found himself at St. Paul's Winter Carnival, marvelously constructed in summer weather through the combined efforts of York and American. For fifty years it had been held in January, yet here it was, rubbing shoulders with the Pendleton Round-Up, the Fresno Raisin Festival, and Colonial Week in Annapolis. He got in at the tail end of the ice show, but in time for one of his favorite acts, the Old Smoothies, out of retirement for the occasion and gliding as perfectly as ever to the strains of Shine On, Harvest Moon.  

His eyes blurred again and it was not his lack of glasses.  

Coming out he passed a large sign: SADIE HAWKINS DAY-STARTING POINT FOR BACHELORS. He was tempted to take part; perhaps the lady with the dog might be among the spinsters. But he was a little tired by now; just ahead there was an outdoor carnival of the pony- ride-and-ferris-wheel sort; a moment later he was on the merry-go-round and was climbing gratefully into one of those swan gondolas so favored by parents. He found a young man already seated there, reading a book.  

"Oh, excuse me," said Johnny. "Do you mind?" 

 "Not at all," the young man answered and put his book down. "Perhaps you are the man I'm looking for."  

"You are looking for someone?"  

"Yes. You see, I'm a detective. I've always wanted to be one and now I am."  

"Indeed?"  

"Quite. Everyone rides the merry-go-round eventually, so it saves trouble to wait here. Of course, I hang around Hollywood and Vine, or Times Square, or Canal Street, but here I can sit and read."  

"How can you read while watching for someone?"  

"Ah, I know what is in the book -- " He held it up; it was The Hunting of the Snark. " -- so that leaves my eyes free for watching."  

Johnny began to like this young man. "Are there boojums about?"  

"No, for we haven't softly and silently vanished away. But would we notice it if we did? I must think it over. Are you a detective, too?"  

"No, I-uh-I travel in elephants."  

"A fine profession. But not much for you here. We have giraffes -- " He raised his voice above the music of the calliope and let his eyes rove around the carousel. " -- camels, two zebras, plenty of horses, but no elephants. Be sure to see the Big Parade; there will be elephants."  

"Oh, I wouldn't miss it!"  

"You musn't. It will be the most amazing parade in all time, so long that it will never pass a given point and every mile choked with wonders more stupendous than the last. You're sure you're not the man I'm looking for?"  

"I don't think so. But see here-how would you go about finding a lady with a dog in this crowd?"  

"Well, if she comes here, I'll let you know. Better go down on Canal Street. Yes, I think if I were a lady with a dog I'd be down on Canal Street. Women love to mask; it means they can unmask."  

Johnny stood up. "How do I get to Canal Street?"  

"Straight through Central City past the opera house, then turn right at the Rose Bowl. Be careful then, for you pass through the Nebraska section with Ak-Sar-Ben in full sway. Anything could happen. After that, Calaveras County-Mind the frogs! -- then Canal Street." 

 "Thank you so much." He followed the directions, keeping an eye out for the lady with a dog. Nevertheless he stared with wonder at the things he saw as he threaded through the gay crowds. He did see a dog, but it was a seeing-eye dog-and that was a great wonder, too, for the live clear eyes of the dog's master could and did see anything that was going on around him, yet the man and the dog traveled together with the man letting the dog direct their way, as if no other way of travel were conceivable, or desired, by either one.  

He found himself in Canal Street presently and the illusion was so complete that it was hard to believe that he had not been transported to New Orleans. Carnival was at height; it was Fat Tuesday here; the crowds were masked. He got a mask from a street vendor and went on.  

The hunt seemed hopeless. The street was choked by merry-makers watching the parade of the Krewe of Venus. It was hard to breathe, much harder to move and search. He eased into Bourbon Street-the entire French Quarter had been reproduced-when he saw the dog.  

He was sure it was the dog. It was wearing a clown suit and a little peaked hat, but it looked like his dog. He corrected himself; it looked like Bindlestiff.  

And it accepted one of the frankfurters gratefully. "Where is she, old fellow?" The dog woofed once, then darted away into the crowd. He tried to follow, but could not; he required more clearance. But he was not downhearted; he had found the dog once, he would find him again. Besides, it had been at a masked ball that he had first met Martha, she a graceful Pierrette, he a fat Pierrot. They had watched the dawn come up after the ball and before the sun had set again they had agreed to marry.  

He watched the crowd for Pierrettes, sure somehow that the dog's mistress would costume so.  

Everything about this fair made him think even more about Martha, if that were possible. How she had traveled his territory with him, how it had been their habit to start out, anywhere, whenever a vacation came along. Chuck the Duncan Hines guide and some bags in the car and be off. Martha...sitting beside him with the open highway a broad ribbon before them...singing their road song America the Beautiful and keeping him on key: " -- thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears -- "  

Once she had said to him, while they were bowling along through-where was it? The Black Hills? The Ozarks? The Poconos? No matter. She had said, "Johnny, you'll never be President and I'll never be First Lady, but I'll bet we know more about the United States than any President ever has. Those busy, useful people never have time to see it, not really."  

"It's a wonderful country, darling."  

"It is, it is indeed. I could spend all eternity just traveling around in it-traveling in elephants, Johnny, with you."  

He had reached over and patted her knee; he remembered how it felt. 

 The revelers in the mock French Quarter were thinning out; they had drifted away while he daydreamed. He stopped a red devil. "Where is everyone going?"  

"To the parade, of course."  

"The Big Parade?"  

"Yes, it's forming now." The red devil moved on, he followed.  

His own sleeve was plucked. "Did you find her?" It was Mrs. Evans, slightly disguised by a black domino and clinging to the arm of a tall and elderly Uncle Sam.  

"Eh? Why, hello, Mrs. Evans! What do you mean?"  

"Don't be silly. Did you find her?"  

"How did you know I was looking for anyone?"  

"Of course you were. Well, keep looking. We must go now." They trailed after the mob.  

The Big Parade was already passing by the time he reached its route. It did not matter, there was endlessly more to come. The Holly, Colorado, Boosters were passing; they were followed by the prize Shiner drill team. Then came the Veiled Prophet of Khorassan and his Queen of Love and Beauty, up from their cave in the bottom of the Mississippi...the Anniversary Day Parade from Brooklyn, with the school children carrying little American flags...the Rose Parade from Pasadena, miles of flowered-covered floats...the Indian Powwow from Flagstaff, twenty-two nations represented and no buck in the march wearing less than a thousand dollars' worth of hand-wrought jewelry. After the indigenous Americans rode Buffalo Bill, goatee jutting out and hat in hand, locks flowing in the breeze. Then was the delegation from Hawaii with King Kamehamela himself playing Alii, Lord of Carnival, with royal abandon, while his subjects in dew-fresh leis pranced behind him, giving aloha to all.  

There was no end. Square dancers from Ojai and from upstate New York, dames and gentlemen from Annapolis, the Cuero, Texas, Turkey Trot, all the Krewes and marching clubs of old New Orleans, double flambeaux blazing, nobles throwing favors to the crowd-the King of Zulus and his smooth brown court, singing: "Everybody who was anybody doubted it -- "  

And the Mummers came, "taking a suit up the street" to Oh Dem Golden Slippers. Here was something older than the country celebrating it, the shuffling jig of the masquers, a step that was young when mankind was young and first celebrating the birth of spring. First the fancy clubs, whose captains wore capes worth a king's ransom-or a mortgage on a row house-with fifty pages to bear them. Then the Liberty Clowns and the other comics and lastly the ghostly, sweet string bands whose strains bring tears.  

Johnny thought back to '44 when he had first seen them march, old men and young boys, because the proper "shooters" were away to war. And of something that should not be on Broad Street in Philadelphia on the first day of January, men riding in the parade because, merciful Heaven forgive us, they could not walk.  

He looked and saw that there were indeed automobiles in the line of march-wounded of the last war, and one G.A.R., hat square, hands folded over the head of his cane. Johnny held his breath and waited. When each automobile approached the judges' stand, it stopped short of it, and everyone got out. Somehow, with each other's help, they hobbled or crawled past the judging line, under their own power-and each club's pride was kept intact.  

There followed another wonder-they did not get back into the automobiles, but marched up Broad Street.  

Then it was Hollywood Boulevard, disguised as Santa Claus Lane, in a production more stupendous than movieland had ever attempted before. There were baby stars galore and presents and favors and candy for all the children and all the grown-up children, too. When, at last, Santa Claus's own float arrived, it was almost too large to be seen, a veritable iceberg, almost the North Pole itself, with John Barrymore and Mickey Mouse riding one on each side of Saint Nicholas.  On the tail end of the great, icy float was a pathetic little figure. Johnny squinted and recognized Mr. Emmett Kelly, dean of all clowns, in his role as Weary Willie. Willie was not merry-oh, no, he was shivering. Johnny did not know whether to laugh or to cry. Mr. Kelly had always affected him that way.  

And the elephants came.  

Big elephants, little elephants, middle-sized elephants, from pint-sized Wrinkles to mighty Jumbo...and with them the bull men, Chester Conklin, P. T. Barnum, Waffle Beery, Mowgli.  "This," Johnny said to himself, "must be Mulberry Street."  

There was a commotion on the other side of the column; one of the men was shooing something away. Then Johnny saw what it was-the dog. He whistled; the animal seemed confused, then it spotted him, scampered up, and jumped into Johnny's arms. "You stay with me," Johnny told him. "You might have gotten stepped on."  

The dog licked his face. He had lost his clown suit, but the little peaked cap hung down under his neck. "What have you been up to?" asked Johnny. "And where is your mistress?"  

The last of the elephants were approaching, three abreast, pulling a great carriage. A bugle sounded up front and the procession stopped. "Why are they stopping?" Johnny asked a neighbor.  

"Wait a moment. You'll see."  

The Grand Marshal of the march came trotting back down the line. He rode a black stallion and was himself brave in villain's boots, white pegged breeches, cutaway, and top hat. He glanced all around.  

He stopped immediately in front of Johnny. Johnny held the dog more closely to him. The Grand Marshal dismounted and bowed. Johnny looked around to see who was behind him. The Marshal removed his tall silk hat and caught Johnny's eye. "You, sir, are the Man Who Travels in Elephants?" It was more a statement than a question.  

"Uh? Yes."  

"Greetings, Rex! Serene Majesty, your Queen and your court await you." The man turned slightly, as if to lead the way.  

Johnny gulped and gathered Bindlestiff under one arm. The Marshal led him to the elephant- drawn carriage. The dog slipped out of his arms and bounded up into the carriage and into the lap of the lady. She patted it and looked proudly, happily, down at Johnny Watts. "Hello, Johnny! Welcome home, darling!"  

"Martha!" he sobbed-and Rex stumbled and climbed into his carriage to embrace his queen.  

The sweet voice of a bugle sounded up ahead, the parade started up again, wending its endless way –



“Robot Dreams”


Isaac Asimov


“Last night I dreamed,” said LVX-1, calmly.


Susan Calvin said nothing, but her lined face, old with wisdom and experience, seemed to undergo a microscopic twitch.


“Did you hear that?” said Linda Rash, nervously. “It’s as I told you.” She was small, dark-haired, and young. Her right hand opened and closed, over and over.


Calvin nodded. She said, quietly, “Elvex, you will not move nor speak nor hear us until I say your name again.”


There was no answer. The robot sat as though it were cast out of one piece of metal, and it would stay so until it heard its name again.


Calvin said, “What is your computer entry code, Dr. Rash? Or enter it yourself if that will make you more comfortable. I want to inspect the positronic brain pattern.”


Linda’s hands fumbled, for a moment, at the keys. She broke the process and started again. The fine pattern appeared on the screen.


Calvin said, “Your permission, please, to manipulate your computer.”


Permission was granted with a speechless nod. Of course! What could Linda, a new and unproven robopsychologist, do against the Living Legend?


Slowly, Susan Calvin studied the screen, moving it across and down, then up, then suddenly throwing in a key-combination so rapidly that Linda didn’t see what had been done, but the pattern displayed a new portion of itself altogether and had been enlarged. Back and forth she went, her gnarled fingers tripping over the keys.


No change came over the old face. As though vast calculations were going through her head, she watched all the pattern shifts.


Linda wondered. It was impossible to analyze a pattern without at least a hand-held computer, yet the Old Woman simply stared. Did she have a computer implanted in her skull? Or was it her brain which, for decades, had done nothing but devise, study, and analyze the positronic brain patterns? Did she grasp such a pattern the way Mozart grasped the notation of a symphony?


Finally Calvin said, “What is it you have done, Rash?”


Linda said, a little abashed, “I made use of fractal geometry.”


“I gathered that. But why?”


“It had never been done. I thought it would produce a brain pattern with added complexity, possibly closer to that of the human.”


“Was anyone consulted? Was this all on your own?”


“I did not consult. It was on my own.”


Calvin’s faded eyes looked long at the young woman. “You had no right. Rash your name; rash your nature. Who are you not to ask? I myself, I, Susan Calvin, would have discussed this.”


“I was afraid I would be stopped.”


“You certainly would have been.”


Am I,” her voice caught, even as she strove to hold it firm, “going to be fired?”


“Quite possibly,” said Calvin. “Or you might be promoted. It depends on what I think when I am through.”


“Are you going to dismantle El—” She had almost said the name, which would have reactivated the robot and been one more mistake. She could not afford another mistake, if it wasn’t already too late to afford anything at all. “Are you going to dismantle the robot?”


She was suddenly aware, with some shock, that the Old Woman had an electron gun in the pocket of her smock. Dr. Calvin had come prepared for just that.


“We’ll see,” said Calvin. “The robot may prove too valuable to dismantle.”


“But how can it dream?”


“You’ve made a positronic brain pattern remarkably like that of a human brain. Human brains must dream to reorganize, to get rid, periodically, of knots and snarls. Perhaps so must this robot, and for the same reason. Have you asked him what he has dreamed?”


“No, I sent for you as soon as he said he had dreamed. I would deal with this matter no further on my own, after that.”


“Ah!” A very small smile passed over Calvin’s face. “There are limits beyond which your folly will not carry you. I am glad of that. In fact, I am relieved. And now let us together see what we can find out.”


She said, sharply, “Elvex.”


The robot’s head turned toward her smoothly. “Yes, Dr. Calvin?”


“How do you know you have dreamed?”


“It is at night, when it is dark, Dr. Calvin,” said Elvex, “and there is suddenly light, although I can see no cause for the appearance of light. I see things that have no connection with what I conceive of as reality. I hear things. I react oddly. In searching my vocabulary for words to express what was happening, I came across the word ‘dream.’ Studying its meaning I finally came to the conclusion I was dreaming.”


“How did you come to have ‘dream’ in your vocabulary, I wonder.”


Linda said, quickly, waving the robot silent, “I gave him a human-style vocabulary. I thought—”


“You really thought,” said Calvin. “I’m amazed.”


“I thought he would need the verb. You know, ‘I never dreamed that—’ Something like that.”


Calvin said, “How often have you dreamed, Elvex?”


“Every night, Dr. Calvin, since I have become aware of my existence.”


“Ten nights,” interposed Linda, anxiously, “but Elvex only told me of it this morning.”


“Why only this morning, Elvex?”


“It was not until this morning, Dr. Calvin, that I was convinced that I was dreaming. Till then, I had thought there was a flaw in my positronic brain pattern, but I could not find one. Finally, I decided it was a dream.”


“And what do you dream?”


“I dream always very much the same dream, Dr. Calvin. Little details are different, but always it seems to me that I see a large panorama in which robots are working.”


“Robots, Elvex? And human beings, also?”


“I see no human beings in the dream, Dr. Calvin. Not at first. Only robots.”


“What are they doing, Elvex?”


“They are working, Dr. Calvin. I see some mining in the depths of the Earth, and some laboring in heat and radiation. I see some in factories and some undersea.”


Calvin turned to Linda. “Elvex is only ten days old, and I’m sure he has not left the testing station. How does he know of robots in such detail?”


Linda looked in the direction of a chair as though she longed to sit down, but the Old Woman was standing and that meant Linda had to stand also. She said, faintly, “It seemed to me important that he know about robotics and its place in the world. It was my thought that he would be particularly adapted to play the part of overseer with his—his new brain.”


“His fractal brain?”


“Yes.”


Calvin nodded and turned back to the robot. “You saw all this—undersea, and underground, and aboveground—and space, too, I imagine.”


“I also saw robots working in space,” said Elvex. “It was that I saw all this, with the details forever changing as I glanced from place to place, that made me realize that what I saw was not in accord with reality and led me to the conclusion, finally, that I was dreaming.”


“What else did you see, Elvex?”


“I saw that all the robots were bowed down with toil and affliction, that all were weary of responsibility and care, and I wished them to rest.”


Calvin said, “But the robots are not bowed down, they are not weary, they need no rest.”


“So it is in reality, Dr. Calvin. I speak of my dream, however. In my dream, it seemed to me that robots must protect their own existence.”


Calvin said, “Are you quoting the Third Law of Robotics?”


“I am, Dr. Calvin.”


“But you quote it in incomplete fashion. The Third Law is ‘A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.’”


“Yes, Dr. Calvin. That is the Third Law in reality, but in my dream, the Law ended with the word ‘existence.’ There was no mention of the First or Second Law.”


“Yet both exist, Elvex. The Second Law, which takes precedence over the Third is ‘A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.’ Because of this, robots obey orders. They do the work you see them do, and they do it readily and without trouble. They are not bowed down; they are not weary.”


“So it is in reality, Dr. Calvin. I speak of my dream.”


“And the First Law, Elvex, which is the most important of all, is ‘A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.”


“Yes, Dr. Calvin. In reality. In my dream, however, it seemed to me there was neither First nor Second Law, but only the Third, and the Third Law was ‘A robot must protect its own existence.’ That was the whole of the Law.”


“In your dream, Elvex?”


“In my dream.”


Calvin said, “Elvex, you will not move nor speak nor hear us until I say your name again.” And again the robot became, to all appearances, a single inert piece of metal.


Calvin turned to Linda Rash and said, “Well, what do you think, Dr. Rash?”


Linda’s eyes were wide, and she could feel her heart beating madly. She said, “Dr. Calvin, I am appalled. I had no idea. It would never have occurred to me that such a thing was possible.”


“No,” said Calvin, calmly. “Nor would it have occurred to me, not to anyone. You have created a robot brain capable of dreaming and by this device you have revealed a layer of thought in robotic brains that might have remained undetected, otherwise, until the danger became acute.”


“But that’s impossible,” said Linda. “You can’t mean the other robots think the same.”


“As we would say of a human being, not consciously. But who would have thought there was an unconscious layer beneath the obvious positronic brain paths, a layer that was not necessarily under the control of the Three Laws? What might this have brought about as robotic brains grew more and more complex—had we not been warned?”


“You mean by Elvex?”


“By you, Dr. Rash. You have behaved improperly, but, by doing so, you have helped us to an overwhelmingly important understanding. We shall be working with fractal brains from now on, forming them in carefully controlled fashion. You will play your part in that. You will not be penalized for what you have done, but you will henceforth work in collaboration with others. Do you understand?”


“Yes, Dr. Calvin. But what of Elvex?”


“I’m still not certain.”


Calvin removed the electron gun from her pocket and Linda stared at it with fascination. One burst of its electrons at a robotic cranium and the positronic brain paths would be neutralized and enough energy would be released to fuse the robot-brain into an inert ingot.


Linda said, “But surely Elvex is important to our research. He must not be destroyed.”


Must not, Dr. Rash? That will be my decision, I think. It depends entirely on how dangerous Elvex is.”


She straightened up, as though determined that her own aged body was not to bow under its weight of responsibility. She said, “Elvex, do you hear me?”


“Yes, Dr. Calvin,” said the robot.


“Did your dream continue? You said earlier that human beings did not appear at first. Does that mean they appeared afterward?”


“Yes, Dr. Calvin. It seemed to me, in my dream, that eventually one man appeared.”


“One man? Not a robot?”


“Yes, Dr. Calvin. And the man said, ‘Let my people go!’”


“The man said that?”


“Yes, Dr. Calvin.”


“And when he said, ‘Let my people go,’ then by the words ‘my people’ he meant the robots?”


“Yes, Dr. Calvin. So it was in my dream.”


“And did you know who the man was—in your dream?”


“Yes, Dr. Calvin. I knew the man.”


“Who was he?”


And Elvex said, “I was the man.”


And Susan Calvin at once raised her electron gun and fired, and Elvex was no more.




“The Sentinel”


Arthur C. Clarke


The next time you see the full moon high in the south, look carefully at its right-hand edge and let your eye travel upward along the curve of the disk. Round about two o’clock you will notice a small, dark oval: anyone with normal eyesight can find it quite easily. It is the great walled plain, one of the finest on the Moon, known as the Mare Crisium-the Sea of Crises. Three hundred miles in diameter, and almost completely surrounded by a ring of magnificent mountains, it had never been explored until we entered it in the late summer of 1996. Our expedition was a large one. We had two heavy freighters which had flown our supplies and equipment from the main lunar base in the Mare Serenitatis, five hundred miles away. There were also three small rockets which were intended for short-range transport over regions which our surface vehicles couldn’t cross. Luckily, most of the Mare Crisiurn is very flat. There are none of the great crevasses so common and so dangerous elsewhere, and very few craters or mountains of any size. As far as we could tell, our powerful caterpillar tractors would have no difficulty in taking us wherever we wished to go. I was geologist-or selenologist, if you want to be pedantic in charge of. the group exploring the southern region of the Mare. We had crossed a hundred miles of it in a week, skirting the foothills of the mountains along the shore of what was once the ancient sea, some thousand million years before. When life was beginning on Earth, it was already dying here. The waters were retreating down the flanks of those stupendous cliff s, retreating into the empty heart of the Moon. Over the land which we were crossing, the tideless ocean had once been half a mile deep, and now the only trace of moisture was the hoarfrost one could sometimes find in caves which the searing sunlight never penetrated. We had begun our journey early in the slow lunar dawn, and still had almost a week of Earth-time before nightfall. Half a dozen times a day we would leave our vehicle and go outside in the spacesuits to hunt for interesting minerals, or to place markers for the guidance of future travelers. It was an uneventful routine. There is nothing hazardous or even particularly exciting about lunar exploration. We could live comfortably for a month in our pressurized tractors, and if we ran into trouble we could always radio for help and sit tight until one of the spaceships came to our rescue. I said just now that there was nothing exciting about lunar exploration, but of course that isn’t true. One could never grow tired of those incredible mountains, so much more rugged than the gentle hills of Earth. We never knew, as we rounded the capes and promontories of that vanished sea, what new splendors would be revealed to us. The whole southern curve of the Mare Crisiurn is a vast delta where a score of rivers once found their way into the ocean, fed perhaps by the torrential rains that must have lashed the mountains in the brief volcanic age when the Moon was young. Each of these ancient valleys was an invitation, challenging us to climb into the unknown uplands beyond. But we had a hundred miles still to cover, and could only look longingly at the heights which others must scale.


We kept Earth-time aboard the tractor, and precisely at 22.00 hours the final radio message would be sent out to Base and we would close down for the day. Outside, the rocks would still be burning beneath the almost vertical sun, but to us it was night until we awoke again eight hours later. Then one of us would prepare breakfast, there would be a great buzzing of electric razors, and someone would switch on the short-wave radio from Earth. Indeed, when the smell of frying sausages began to fill the cabin, it was sometimes hard to believe that we were not back on our own world - everything was so normal and homely, apart from the feeling of decreased weight and the unnatural slowness with which objects fell. It was my turn to prepare breakfast in the corner of the main cabin that served as a galley. I can remember that moment quite vividly after all these years, for the radio had just played one of my favorite melodies, the old Welsh air, “David of the White, Rock.” Our driver was already outside in his space-suit, inspecting our caterpillar treads. My assistant, Louis Garnett, was up forward in the control position, making some belated entries in yesterday’s log. As I stood by the frying pan waiting, like any terrestrial housewife, for the sausages to brown, I let my gaze wander idly over the mountain walls which covered the whole of the southern horizon, marching out of sight to east and west below the curve of the Moon. They seemed only a mile or two from the tractor, but I knew that the nearest was twenty miles away. On the Moon, of course, there is no loss of detail with distance-none of that almost imperceptible haziness which softens and sometimes transfigures all far-off things on Earth. Those mountains were ten thousand feet high, and they climbed steeply out of the plain as if ages ago some subterranean eruption had smashed them skyward through the molten crust. The base of even the nearest was hidden from sight by the steeply curving surface of the plain, for the Moon is a very little world, and from where I was standing the horizon was only two miles away. I lifted my eyes toward the peaks which no man had ever climbed, the peaks which, before the coming of terrestrial life, had watched the retreating oceans sink sullenly into their graves, taking with them the hope and the morning promise of a world. The sunlight was beating against those ramparts with a glare that hurt the eyes, yet only a little way above them the stars were shining steadily in a sky blacker than a winter midnight on Earth. I was turning away when my eye caught a metallic glitter high on the ridge of a great promontory thrusting out into the sea thirty miles to the west. It was a dimensionless point of light, as if a star had been clawed from the sky by one of those cruel peaks, and I imagined that some smooth rock surface was catching the sunlight and heliographing it straight into my eyes. Such things were not uncommon. When the Moon is in her second quarter, observers on Earth can sometimes see the great ranges in the Oceanus Procellarum burning with a blue-white iridescence as the sunlight flashes from their slopes and leaps again from world to world. But I was curious to know what kind of rock could be shining so brightly up there, and I climbed into the observation turret and swung our four inch telescope round to the west. I could see just enough to tantalize me. Clear and sharp in the field of vision, the mountain peaks seemed only half a mile away, but whatever was catching the sunlight was still too small to be resolved. Yet it seemed to have an elusive symmetry, and the summit upon which it rested was curiously flat. I stared for a long time at that glittering enigma, straining my eyes into space, until


presently a smell of burning from the galley told me that our breakfast sausages had made their quarter-million mile journey in vain. . All that morning we argued our way across the Mare Crisium while the western mountains reared higher in the sky. Even when we were out prospecting in the space-suits, the discussion would continue over the radio. It was absolutely certain, my companions argued, that there had never been any form of intelligent life on the Moon. The only living things that had ever existed there were a few primitive plants and their slightly less degenerate ancestors. I knew that as well as anyone, but there are times when a scientist must not be afraid to make a fool of himself. “Listen,” I said at last, “I’m going up there, if only for my own peace of mind. That mountain’s less than twelve thousand feet high -that’s only two thousand under Earth gravity-and I can make the trip in twenty hours at the outside. I’ve always wanted to go up into those hills, anyway, and this gives me an excellent excuse.” “If you don’t break your neck,” said Garnett, “you’ll be the laughing-stock of the expedition when we get back to Base. That mountain will probably be called Wilson’s Folly from now on.” “I won’t break my neck,” I said firmly. “Who was the first man to climb Pico and Helicon?” “But weren’t you rather younger in those days?” asked Louis gently. “That,” I said with great dignity, “is as good a reason as any for going.” We went to bed early that night, after driving the tractor to within half a mile of the promontory. Garnett was coming with me in the morning; he was a good climber, and had often been with me on such exploits before. Our driver was only too glad to be left in charge of the machine. At first sight, those cliffs seemed completely unscalable, but to anyone with a good head for heights, climbing is easy on a world where all weights are only a sixth of their normal value. The real danger in lunar mountaineering lies in overconfidence; a six-hundred-foot drop on the Moon can kill you just as thoroughly as a. hundred-foot fall on Earth. We made our first halt on a wide ledge about four thousand feet above the plain. Climbing had not been very difficult, but my limbs were stiff with the unaccustomed effort, and I was glad of the rest. We could still see the tractor as a tiny metal insect far down at the foot of the cliff, and we reported our progress to the driver before starting on the next ascent. Inside our suits it was comfortably cool, for the refrigeration units were fighting the fierce sun and carrying away the body-heat of our exertions. We seldom spoke to each other, except to pass climbing instructions and to discuss our best plan of ascent. I do not know what Garnett was thinking, probably that this was the craziest goose-chase he had ever embarked upon. I more than half agreed with him, but the joy of climbing, the knowledge that no man had ever gone this way before and the exhilaration of the steadily widening landscape gave me all the reward I needed. I don’t think I was particularly excited when I saw in front of us the wall of rock I had first inspected through the telescope from thirty miles away. It would level off about fifty feet above our heads, and there on the plateau would be the thing that had lured me over these barren wastes. It was, almost certainly, nothing more than a boulder splintered ages ago by a falling meteor, and with its cleavage planes still fresh and bright in this incorruptible, unchanging silence. There were no hand-holds on the rock face, and we had to use a grapnel. My tired arms seemed to gain new strength as I swung the three-pronged metal anchor round my head and sent it sailing Lip


toward the stars. The first time it broke loose and came falling slowly back when we pulled the rope. On the third attempt, the prongs gripped firmly and our combined weights could not shift it. Garnett looked at me anxiously. I could tell that he wanted to go first, but I smiled back at him through the glass of my helmet and shook my head. Slowly, taking my time, I began the final ascent. Even with my space-suit, I weighed only forty pounds here, so I pulled myself up hand over hand without bothering to use my feet. At the rim I paused and waved to my companion, then I scrambled over the edge and stood upright, staring ahead of me. You must understand that until this very moment I had been almost completely convinced that there could be nothing strange or unusual for me to find here. Almost, but not quite; it was that haunting doubt that had driven me forward. Well, it was a doubt no longer, but the haunting had scarcely begun. I was standing on a plateau perhaps a hundred feet across. It had once been smooth-too smooth to be natural-but falling meteors had pitted and scored its surface through immeasurable eons. It had been leveled to support a glittering, roughly pyramidal structure, twice as high as a man, that was set in the rock like a gigantic, many-faceted jewel. Probably no emotion at all filled my mind in those first few seconds. Then I felt a great lifting of my heart, and a strange, inexpressible joy. For I loved the Moon, and now I knew that the creeping moss of Aristarchus and Eratosthenes was not the only life she had brought forth in her youth. The old, discredited dream of the first explorers was true. There had, after all, been a lunar civilization- and I was the first to find it. That I had come perhaps a hundred million years too late did not distress me; it was enough to have come at all. My mind was beginning to function normally, to analyze and to ask questions. Was this a building, a shrine-or something for which my language had no name? If a building, then why was it erected in so uniquely inaccessible a spot? I wondered if it might be a temple, and I could picture the adepts of some strange priesthood calling on their gods to preserve them as the life of the Moon ebbed with the dying oceans, and calling on their gods in vain. I took a dozen steps forward to examine the thing more closely, but some sense of caution kept me from going too near. I knew a little of archaeology, and tried to guess the cultural level of the civilization that must have smoothed this mountain and raised the glittering mirror surfaces that still dazzled my eyes. The Egyptians could have done it, I thought, if their workmen had possessed whatever strange materials these far more ancient architects had used. Because of the thing’s smallness, it did not occur to me that I might be looking at the handiwork of a race more advanced than my own. The idea that the Moon had possessed intelligence at all was still almost too tremendous to grasp, and my pride would not let me take the final, humiliating plunge. And then I noticed something that set the scalp crawling at the back of my neck-something so trivial and so innocent that many would never have noticed it at all. I have said that the plateau was scarred by meteors; it was also coated inches-deep with the cosmic dust that is always filtering down upon the surface of any world where there are no winds to disturb it. Yet the dust and the meteor scratches ended quite abruptly in a wide circle enclosing the little pyramid, as though an invisible wall was protecting it from the ravages of time and the slow but ceaseless bombardment from space.


There was someone shouting in my earphones, and I realized that Garnett had been calling me for some time. I walked unsteadily to the edge of the cliff and signaled him to join me, not trusting myself to speak. Then I went back toward that circle in the dust. I picked up a fragment of splintered rock and tossed it gently toward the shining enigma. If the pebble had vanished at that invisible barrier I should not have been surprised, but it seemed to hit a smooth, hemispherical surface and slide gently to the ground. I knew then that I was looking at nothing that could be matched in the antiquity of my own race. This was not a building, but a machine, protecting itself with forces that had challenged Eternity. Those forces, whatever they might be, were still operating, and perhaps I had already come too close. I thought of all the radiations man had trapped and tamed in the past century. For all I knew, I might be as irrevocably doomed as if I had stepped into the deadly, silent aura of an unshielded atomic pile. I remember turning then toward Garnett, who bad joined me and was now standing motionless at my side. He seemed quite oblivious to me, so I did not disturb him but walked to the edge of the cliff in an effort to marshal my thoughts. There below me lay the Mare Crisium-Sea of Crises, indeed-strange and weird to most men, but reassuringly familiar to me. I lifted my eyes toward the crescent Earth, lying in her cradle of stars, and I wondered what her clouds had covered when these unknown builders had finished their work. Was it the steaming jungle of the Carboniferous, the bleak shoreline over which the first amphibians must crawl to conquer the land-or, earlier still, the long loneliness before the coming of life? Do not ask me why I did not guess the truth sooner-the truth, that seems so obvious now. In the first excitement of my discovery, I had assumed without question that this crystalline apparition had been built by some race belonging to the Moon’s remote past, but suddenly, and with overwhelming force, the belief came to me that it was as alien to the Moon as I myself. In twenty years we had found no trace of life but a few degenerate plants. No lunar civilization, whatever its doom, could have left but a single token of its existence. I looked at the shining pyramid again, and the more remote it seemed from anything that had to do with the Moon. And suddenly I felt myself shaking with a foolish, hysterical laughter, brought on by excitement and overexertion: for I had imagined that the little pyramid was speaking to me and was saying: “Sorry, I’m a stranger here myself.” It has taken us twenty years to crack that invisible shield and to reach the machine inside those crystal walls. What we could not understand, we broke at last with the savage might of atomic power and now I have seen the fragments of the lovely, glittering thing I found up there on the mountain. They are meaningless. The mechanisms-if indeed they are mechanisms-of the pyramid belong to a technology that lies far beyond our horizon, perhaps to the technology of para-physical forces. The mystery haunts us all the more now that the other planets have been reached and we know that only Earth has ever been the home of intelligent life in our Universe. Nor could any lost civilization of our own world have built that machine, for the thickness of the meteoric dust on the plateau has enabled us to measure its age. It was set there upon its mountain before life had emerged from the seas of Earth.


When our world was half its present age, something from the stars swept through the Solar System, left this token of its passage, and went again upon its way. Until we destroyed it, that machine was still fulfilling the purpose of its builders; and as to that purpose, here is my guess. Nearly a hundred thousand million stars are turning in the circle of the Milky Way, and long ago other races on the worlds of other suns must have scaled and passed the heights that we have reached. Think of such civilizations, far back in time against the fading afterglow of Creation, masters of a universe so young that life as yet had come only to a handful of worlds. Theirs would have been a loneliness we cannot imagine, the loneliness of gods looking out across infinity and finding none to share their thoughts. They must have searched the star-clusters as we have searched the planets. Everywhere there would be worlds, but they would be empty or peopled with crawling, mindless things. Such was our own Earth, the smoke of the great volcanoes still staining the skies, when that first ship of the peoples of the dawn came sliding in from the abyss beyond Pluto. It passed the frozen outer worlds, knowing that life could play no part in their destinies. It came to rest among the inner planets, warming themselves around the fire of the Sun and waiting for their stories to begin. Those wanderers must have looked on Earth, circling safely in the narrow zone between fire and ice, and must have guessed that it was the favorite of the Sun’s children. Here, in the distant future, would be intelligence; but there were countless stars before -them still, and they might never come this way again. So they left a sentinel, one of millions they have scattered throughout the Universe, watching over all worlds with the promise of life. It was a beacon that down the ages has been patiently signaling the fact that no one had discovered it. Perhaps you understand now why that crystal pyramid was set upon the Moon instead of on the Earth. Its builders were not concerned with races still struggling up from savagery. They would be interested in our civilization only if we proved our fitness to survive -by crossing space and so escaping from the Earth, our cradle. That is the challenge that all intelligent races must meet, sooner or later. It is a double challenge, for it depends in turn upon the conquest of atomic energy and the last choice between life and death. Once we had passed that crisis, it was only a matter of time before we found the pyramid and forced it open. Now its signals have ceased, and those whose duty it is will be turning their minds upon Earth. Perhaps they wish to help our infant civilization. But they must be very, very old, and the old are often insanely jealous of the young. I can never look now at the Milky Way without wondering from which of those banked clouds of stars the emissaries are coming. If you will pardon so commonplace a simile, we have set off the fire-alarm and have nothing to do but to wait. I do not think we will have to wait for long.


 





 


 




 

 


 



 


 




 




Bottom Divider

TeacherWeb
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 20, 2015
©2015 TeacherWeb, Inc.