The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xi Part 8
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Harry gazed into the wide eyes. He couldn't speak.
"You're sick, aren't you?" the child persisted. "Let me call the doctor. He can help you."
Harry swung the rifle around. "I'll give you just ten seconds to clear out of here before I shoot."
The child shook his head. Then he took a step forward. "You wouldn't hurt me," he said, gravely. "You're just sick. That's why you talk this way."
Harry leveled the rifle. "I'm not sick," he muttered. "I know what I'm doing. And I know all about you, too. You're one of them, aren't you? One of the first of Leffingwell's brood of illegitimates."
The child took another step forward. "I'm not illegitimate," he said. "I know who I am. I've seen the records. My name is Harry Collins."
Somewhere the rifle exploded, the bullet hurtling harmlessly overhead. But Harry didn't hear it. All he could hear, exploding in his own brain as he went down into darkness, was the sane, logical, calm, controlled voice of his son.
7. Michael Cavendish-2027
Mike was just coming through the clump of trees when the boy began to wave at him. He s.h.i.+fted the clumsy old Jeffrey .475, cursing the weight as he quickened his pace. But there was no help for it, he had to carry the gun himself. None of the boys were big enough.
He wondered what it had been like in the old days, when you could get fullsized bearers. There used to be game all over the place, too, and a white hunter was king.
And what was there left now? Nothing but pygmies, all of them, scurrying around and beating the brush for dibatags and gerenuks. When he was still a boy, Mike had seen the last of the big antelopes go; the last of the wildebeestes and zebra, too. Then the carnivores followed-the lions and the leopards. Simba was dead, and just as well. These natives would never dare to come out of the villages if they knew any lions were left. Most of them had gone to Cape and the other cities anyway; handling cattle was too much of a ch.o.r.e, except on a government farm. Those cows looked like moving mountains alongside the average boy.
Of course there were still some of the older generation left; Kikiyu and even a few Watusi. But the free inoculations had begun many years ago, and the life-cycle moved at an accelerated pace here. Natives grew old and died at thirty; they matured at fifteen. Now, with the shortage of game, the elders perished still more swiftly and only the young remained outside the cities and the farm projects.
Mike smiled as he waited for the boy to come up to him. He wasn't smiling at the boy-he was smiling at himself, for being here. He ought to be in Cape, too, or Kenyarobi. d.a.m.ned silly, this business of being a white hunter, when there was nothing left to hunt.
But somehow he'd stayed on, since Dad died. There were a few compensations. At least here in the forests a man could still move about a bit, taste privacy and solitude and the strange, exotic tropical fruit called loneliness. Even that was vanis.h.i.+ng today.
It was compensation enough, perhaps, for lugging this d.a.m.ned Jeffrey. Mike tried to remember the last time he'd fired it at a living target. A year, two years? Yes, almost two. That gorilla up in Ruwenzori country. At least the boys swore it was ingagi. He hadn't hit it, anyway. Got away in the darkness. Probably he'd been shooting at a shadow. There were no more gorillas-maybe they had been taking the shots, too. Perhaps they'd all turned into rhesus monkeys.
Mike watched the boy run towards him. It was a good five hundred yards from the river bank, and the short brown legs couldn't move very swiftly. He wondered what it felt like to be small. One's sense of proportion must be different. And that, in turn, would affect one's sense of values. What values applied to the world about you when you were only three feet high?
Mike wouldn't know. He was a big man-almost five feet seven.
Sometimes Mike reflected on what things might be like if he'd been born, say, twenty years later. By that time almost everyone would be a product of Leff shots, and he'd be no exception. He might stay with people his own age in Kenyarobi without feeling self-conscious, clumsy, conspicuous. Pressed, he had to admit that was part of the reason he preferred to remain out here at Dad's old place now. He could tolerate the stares of the natives, but whenever he ventured into a city he felt awkward under the scrutiny of the young people. The way those teen-agers looked up at him made him feel a monster, rather.
Better to endure the monotony, the emptiness out here. Yes, and wait for a chance to hunt. Even though, nine times out of ten, it turned out to be a wild goose-chase. During the past year or so Mike had hunted nothing but legends and rumors, spent his time stalking shadows.
Then the villagers had come to him, three days ago, with their wild story. Even when he heard it, he realized it must be pure fable. And the more they insisted, the more they protested, the more he realized it simply couldn't be.
Still, he'd come. Anything to experience some action, anything to create the illusion of purpose, of- "Tembo!" shrieked the boy, excited beyond all pretense of caution. "Up ahead, in river. You come quick, you see!"
No. It couldn't be. The government surveys were thorough. The last record of a specimen dated back over a half-dozen years ago. It was impossible that any survivors remained. And all during the safari these past days, not a sign or a print or a spoor.
"Tembo!" shrilled the boy. "Come quick!"
Mike cradled the gun and started forward. The other bearers shuffled behind him, unable to keep pace because of their short legs and-he suspected-unwilling to do so for fear of what might lie ahead.
Halfway towards the river bank, Mike halted. Now he could hear the rumbling, the unmistakable rumbling. And now he could smell the rank mustiness borne on the hot breeze. Well, at least he was down-wind.
The boy behind him trembled, eyes wide. He had seen something, all right. Maybe just a crocodile, though. Still some crocs around. And he doubted if a young native would know the difference.
Nevertheless, Mike felt a sudden surge of unfamiliar excitement, half expectancy and half fear. Something wallowed in the river; something that rumbled and exuded the stench of life.
Now they were approaching the trees bordering the bank. Mike checked his gun carefully. Then he advanced until his body was aligned with the trees. From here he could see and not be seen. He could peer down at the river-or the place where the river had been, during the rainy season long past. Now it was nothing but a mudwallow under the glaring sun; a huge mudwallow, pitted with deep, circular indentations and dotted with dung.
But in the middle of it stood tembo.
Tembo was a mountain, tembo was a black block of breathing basalt. Tembo roared and snorted and rolled red eyes.
He was a white hunter, but he'd never seen a bull elephant before. And this one stood eleven feet at the shoulders if it stood an inch; the biggest creature walking the face of the earth.
It had risen from the mud, abandoned its wallowing as its trunk curled about, sensitive to the unfamiliar scent of man. Its ears rose like the outspread wings of some gigantic jungle bat. Mike could see the flies buzzing around the ragged edges. He stared at the great tusks that were veined and yellowed and broken-once men had hunted elephants for ivory, he remembered.
But how could they? Even with guns, how had they dared to confront a moving mountain? Mike tried to swallow, but his throat was dry. The stock slipped through his clammy hands.
"Shoot!" implored the boy beside him. "You shoot, now!"
Mike gazed down. The elephant was aware of him. It turned deliberately, staring up the bank as it swayed on the four black pillars of its legs. Mike could see its eyes, set in a ma.s.s of grayish wrinkles. The eyes had recognized him.
They knew, he realized. The eyes knew all about him; who he was and what he was and what he had come here to do. The eyes had seen man before-perhaps long before Mike was born. They understood everything; the gun and the presence and the purpose.
"Shoot!" the boy cried, not bothering to hold his voice down any longer. For the elephant was moving slowly towards the side of the wallow, moving deliberately to firmer footing, and the boy was afraid. Mike was afraid, too, but he couldn't shoot.
"No," he murmured. "Let him go. I can't kill him."
"You must," the boy said. "You promise. Look-all the meat. Meat for two, three villages."
Mike shook his head. "I can't do it," he said. "That isn't meat. That's life. Bigger life than we are. Don't you understand? Oh, the b.l.o.o.d.y h.e.l.l with it! Come on."
The boy wasn't listening to him. He was watching the elephant. And now he started to tremble.
For the elephant was moving up onto solid ground. It moved slowly, daintily, almost mincing as its legs sampled the surface of the sh.o.r.e. Then it looked up and this time there was no doubt as to the direction of its gaze-it stared intently at Mike and the boy on the bank. Its ears fanned, then flared. Suddenly the elephant raised its trunk and trumpeted fiercely.
And then, lowering the black battering-ram of its head, the beast came forward. A deceptively slow lope, a scarcely accelerated trot, and then all at once it was moving swiftly, swiftly and surely and inexorably towards them. The angle of the bank was not steep and the elephant's speed never slackened on the slope. Its right shoulder struck a sapling and the sapling splintered. It was cras.h.i.+ng forward in full charge. Again it trumpeted, trunk extended like a flail of doom.
"Shoot!" screamed the boy.
Mike didn't want to shoot. He wanted to run. He wanted to flee the mountain, flee the incredible breathing bulk of this grotesque giant. But he was a white hunter, he was a man, and a man is not a beast; a man does not run away from life in any shape or size.
The trunk came up. Mike raised the gun. He heard the monster roar, far away, and then he heard another sound that must be the gun's discharge, and something hit him in the shoulder and knocked him down. Recoil? Yes, because the elephant wasn't there any more; he could hear the cras.h.i.+ng and thras.h.i.+ng down below, over the rim of the river bank.
Mike stood up. He saw the boy running now, running back to the bearers huddled along the edge of the trail.
He rubbed his shoulder, picked up his gun, reloaded. The sounds from below had ceased. Slowly, Mike advanced to the lip of the bank and stared down.
The bull elephant had fallen and rolled into the wallow once more. It had taken a direct hit, just beneath the right ear, and even as Mike watched, its trunk writhed feebly like a dying serpent, then fell forward into the mud. The gigantic ears twitched, then flickered and flopped, and the huge body rolled and settled.
Suddenly Mike began to cry.
d.a.m.n it, he hadn't wanted to shoot. If the elephant hadn't charged like that- But the elephant had to charge. Just as he had to shoot. That was the whole secret. The secret of life. And the secret of death, too.
Mike turned away, facing the east. Kenyarobi was east, and he'd be going there now. Nothing to hold him here in the forests any longer. He wouldn't even wait for the big feast. To h.e.l.l with elephant-meat, anyway. His hunting days were over.
Mike walked slowly up the trail to the waiting boys.
And behind him, in the wallow, the flies settled down on the lifeless carca.s.s of the last elephant in the world.
8. Harry Collins-2029
The guards at Stark Falls were under strict orders not to talk. Each prisoner here was exercised alone in a courtyard runway, and meals were served in the cells. The cells were comfortable enough, and while there were no telescreens, books were available-genuine, old-style books which must have been preserved from libraries dismantled fifty years ago or more. Harry Collins found no t.i.tles dated later than 1975. Every day or so an attendant wheeled around a cart piled high with the dusty volumes. Harry read to pa.s.s the time.
At first he kept antic.i.p.ating his trial, but after a while he almost forgot about that possibility. And it was well over a year before he got a chance to tell his story to anyone.
When his opportunity came, his audience did not consist of judge or jury, doctor, lawyer or penologist. He spoke only to Richard Wade, a fellow-prisoner who had been thrust into the adjoining cell on the evening of October 11th, 2013.
Harry spoke haltingly at first, but as he progressed the words came more easily, and emotion lent its own eloquence. His unseen auditor on the other side of the wall did not interrupt or question him; it was enough, for Harry, that there was someone to listen at last.
"So it wasn't a bit like I'd expected," he concluded. "No trial, no publicity. I've never seen Leffingwell again, nor Manschoff. n.o.body questioned me. By the time I recovered consciousness, I was here in prison. Buried alive."
Richard Wade spoke slowly, for the first time. "You're lucky. They might have shot you down on the spot."
"That's just what bothers me," Harry told him. "Why didn't they kill me? Why lock me up incommunicado this way? There aren't many prisons left these days, with food and s.p.a.ce at such a premium."
"There are no prisons left at all-officially," Wade said. "Just as there are no longer any cemeteries. But important people are still given private burials and their remains secretly preserved. All a matter of influence."
"I've no influence. I'm not important. Wouldn't you think they'd consider it risky to keep me alive, under the circ.u.mstances? If there'd ever be an investigation-"
"Who would investigate? Not the government, surely."
"But suppose there's a political turnover. Suppose Congress want to make capital of the situation?"
"There is no Congress."
Harry gasped. "No Congress?"
"As of last month. It was dissolved. Henceforth we are governed by the Cabinet, with authority delegated to department heads."
"But that's preposterous! n.o.body'd stand still for something like that!"
"They did stand still, most of them. After a year of careful preparation-of wholesale exposes of Congressional graft and corruption and inefficiency. Turned out that Congress was the villain all along; the Senators and Representatives had finagled tariff-barriers and restrictive trade-agreements which kept our food supply down. They were opposing international federation. In plain language, people were sold a bill of goods-get rid of Congress and you'll have more food. That did it."
"But you'd think the politicians themselves would realize they were cutting their own throats! The state legislatures and the governors-"
"Legislatures were dissolved by the same agreement," Wade went on. "There are no states any more; just governmental districts. Based upon sensible considerations of area and population. This isn't the old-time expanding economy based on obsolescence and conspicuous consumption. The primary problem at the moment is sheer survival. In a way, the move makes sense. Old-fas.h.i.+oned political machinery couldn't cope with the situation; there's no time for debate when instantaneous decisions are necessary to national welfare. You've heard how civil liberties were suspended during the old wars. Well, there's a war on right now; a war against hunger, a war against the forces of fecundity. In another dozen years or so, when the Leff shot generation is fullgrown and a lot of the elderly have died off, the tensions will ease. Meanwhile, quick action is necessary. Arbitrary action."
"But you're defending dictators.h.i.+p!"
Richard Wade made a sound which is usually accompanied by a derisive shrug. "Am I? Well, I didn't when I was outside. And that's why I'm here now."
Harry Collins cleared his throat. "What did you do?"
"If you refer to my profession, I was a scripter. If you refer to my alleged criminal activity, I made the error of thinking the way you do, and the worse error of attempting to inject such att.i.tudes in my scripts. Seems that when Congress was formally dissolved, there was some notion of preparing a timely show-a sort of historical review of the body, using old film clips. What my superiors had in mind was a comedy of errors; a cavalcade of mistakes and misdeeds showing just why we were better off without supporting a political sideshow. Well, I carried out the a.s.signment and edited the films, but when I drafted a rough commentary, I made the mistake of taking both a pro and con slant. Nothing like that ever reached the telescreens, of course, but what I did was promptly noted. They came for me at once and hustled me off here. I didn't get a hearing or a trial, either."
"But why didn't they execute you? Or-" Harry hesitated-"is that what you expect?"
"Why didn't they execute you?" Wade shot back. He was silent for a moment before continuing. "No, I don't expect anything like that, now. They'd have done it on the spot if they intended to do so at all. No, I've got another idea about people like you and myself. And about some of the Congressmen and Senators who dropped out of sight, too. I think we're being stockpiled."
"It's all part of a plan. Give me a little time to think. We can talk again, later." Wade chuckled once more. "Looks as if there'll be ample opportunity in the future."
And there was. In the months ahead, Harry spoke frequently with his friend behind the wall. He never saw him-prisoners at Stark Falls were exercised separately, and there was no group a.s.sembly or recreation. Surprisingly adequate meals were served in surprisingly comfortable cells. In the matter of necessities, Harry had no complaints. And now that he had someone to talk to, the time seemed to go more swiftly.
He learned a great deal about Richard Wade during the next few years. Mostly, Wade liked to reminisce about the old days. He talked about working for the networks-the commercial networks, privately owned, which flourished before the government took over communications media in the '80s.
"That's where you got your start, eh?" Harry asked.
"Lord, no, boy! I'm a lot more ancient than you think. Why, I'm pus.h.i.+ng sixty-five. Born in 1940. That's right, during World War II. I can almost remember the atomic bomb, and I sure as h.e.l.l remember the sputniks. It was a crazy period, let me tell you. The pessimists worried about the Russians blowing us up, and the optimists were sure we had a glorious future in the conquest of s.p.a.ce. Ever hear that old fable about the blind men examining an elephant? Well, that's the way most people were; each of them groping around and trying to determine the exact shape of things to come. A few of us even made a little money from it for a while, writing science fiction. That's how I got my start."
"You were a writer?"
"Sold my first story when I was eighteen or so. Kept on writing off and on for almost twenty years. Of course, Robertson's thermo-nuc formula came along in '75, and after that everything went to pot. It knocked out the chances of future war, but it also knocked out the interest in speculation or escape-fiction. So I moved over into television for a while, and stayed with it. But the old science fiction was fun while it lasted. Ever read any of it?"
"No," Harry admitted. "That was all before my time. Tell me, though-did any of it make sense? I mean, did some of those writers foresee what was really going to happen?"
"There were plenty of penny prophets and nickel Nostradamuses," Wade told him. "But as I said, most of them were a.s.suming war with the Communists or a new era of s.p.a.ce travel. Since Communism collapsed and s.p.a.ce flight was just an expensive journey to a dead end and dead worlds, it follows that the majority of fictional futures were founded on fallacies. And all the rest of the extrapolations dealt with superficial social manifestations.
"For example, they wrote about civilizations dominated by advertising and ma.s.s-motivation techniques. It's true that during my childhood this seemed to be a logical trend-but once demand exceeded supply, the whole mechanism of stimulating demand, which was advertising's chief function, bogged down. And ma.s.s-motivation techniques, today, are dedicated almost entirely to maintaining minimum resistance to a system insuring our survival.
"Another popular idea was based on the notion of an expanding matriarchy-a gerontomatriarchy, rather, in which older women would take control. In an age when women outlived men by a number of years, this seemed possible. Now, of course, shortened working hours and medical advances have equalized the life-span. And since private property has become less and less of a factor in dominating our collective destinies, it hardly matters whether the male or the female has the upper hand.
"Then there was the common theory that technological advances would result in a push-b.u.t.ton society, where automatons would do all the work. And so they might-if we had an unlimited supply of raw materials to produce robots, and unlimited power-sources to activate them. As we now realize, atomic power cannot be utilized on a minute scale.
"Last, but not least, there was the concept of a medically-orientated system, with particular emphasis on psychotherapy, neurosurgery, and parapsychology. The world was going to be run by telepaths, psychosis eliminated by brainwas.h.i.+ng, intellect developed by hypnotic suggestion. It sounded great-but the conquest of physical disease has occupied the medical profession almost exclusively.
"No, what they all seemed to overlook, with only a few exceptions, was the population problem. You can't run a world through advertising when there are so many people that there aren't enough goods to go around anyway. You can't turn it over to big business when big government has virtually absorbed all of the commercial and industrial functions, just to cope with an ever-growing demand. A matriarchy loses its meaning when the individual family unit changes character, under the stress of an increasing population-pressure which eliminates the old-fas.h.i.+oned home, family circle, and social pattern. And the more we must conserve dwindling natural resources for people, the less we can expend on experimentation with robots and machinery. As for the psychologist-dominated society, there are just too many patients and not enough physicians. I don't have to remind you that the military caste lost its chance of control when war disappeared, and that religion is losing ground every day. Cla.s.s-lines are vanis.h.i.+ng, and racial distinctions will be going next. The old idea of a World Federation is becoming more and more practical. Once the political barriers are down, miscegenation will finish the job. But n.o.body seemed to foresee this particular future. They all made the mistake of worrying about the hydrogen-bomb instead of the sperm-bomb."
Harry nodded thoughtfully, although Wade couldn't see his response. "But isn't it true that there's a little bit of each of these concepts in our actual situation today?" he asked. "I mean, government and business are virtually one and the same, and they do use propaganda techniques to control all media. As for scientific research, look at how we've rebuilt our cities and developed synthetics for food and fuel and clothing and shelter. When it comes to medicine, there's Leffingwell and his inoculations. Isn't that all along the lines of your early science fiction?"
The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xi Part 8
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The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xi Part 8 summary
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