The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Viii Part 97
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He said sullenly, "Go to h.e.l.l."
"We have ways and means."
He said, "Use 'em."
"If we said that we mean no harm; if we asked what we could do to prove it, what would be your reply?"
"Take me back and let me go."
"Who are you? Will you identify yourself?"
"I know my rights. We are not at war. I'll tell you nothing. Why did you capture me?"
"We'll ask the questions, Terran."
"You'll get no answers." He sneered at them angrily. "Torture me--and then wonder whether my screamings tell the truth. Dope me and wonder whether what I truly believe is fact or fantasy."
"Please," said Chelan, "we only want to understand your kind. To know what makes you tick."
"Then why didn't you ask?"
"We've tried and we get no answers. Terran, the Universe is a vastness beyond comprehension. Co-operate and give us what we want to know and a piece of it is yours."
"Terran, you have friends."
"Why can't we be your friends?"
Angrily, resentfully, "Your way isn't friendly enough to convince me."
Chelan shook his head. "Take him away," he directed in his own tongue.
"Where? And how shall we keep him?"
"To the place we've prepared. And keep him safe."
Huvane asked, "Safe? Who knows what is safe? One bribed his guards. One seduced her guards. One dug his way out scratch by scratch. Disappeared, died, dead, gone, mingled off with the myriad of worlds--did one get home, perhaps, to start their legend of the G.o.ds in the sky; the legend that never dies through the rise and fall of culture from savagery to ... to ... to Element 109?"
Chelan looked at Jerry Markham, the Terran looked back defiantly as if he were guest instead of captive. "Co-operate," breathed Chelan.
"I'll tell you nothing. Force me. I can't stop that."
Chelan shook his head sorrowfully. "Extracting what you know would be less than the play of a child," he said. "No, Terran. We can know what you know in the turn of a dial. What we need is that which you do not know. Laugh? Or is that a sneer? No matter. What you know is worthless. Your problems and your ambitions, both racial and personal, are minor. We know them already. The pattern is repet.i.tive, only some of the names are changed.
"But why? Ah, that we must know. Why are you what you are? Seven times in History Terra has come up from the mud, seven times along the same route. Seven times a history of ten thousand years from savage to savant, from beast to brilliance and always with the same will to do--to do what? To die for what? To fight for what?"
Chelan waved Huvane to take the Terran away.
Huvane said, "He's locked in air-tight with guards who can be trusted. Now what do we do with him?"
"He will co-operate."
"No, Huvane. By depriving him of the one thing that Life cannot exist without."
Chelan shook his head. "More primitive than these." He lowered his voice. "He suffers now from being cut off from his kind. Life starts, complaining about the treatment it receives during the miracle of birth and crying for its first breath of air. Life departs gasping for air, with someone listening for the last words, the last message from the dying. Communication, Huvane, is the primary drive of all Life, from plant to animal to man--and if such exists, superman.
"Through communication Life goes on. Communication is the prime requisite to procreation. The firefly signals his mate by night, the human male entices his woman with honeyed words and is not the gift of a jewel a crystalline, enduring statement of his undying affection?"
Chelan dropped his flowery manner and went on in a more casual vein: "Huvane, boil it down to the least attractive form of simplification, no life stands alone. And no viable life goes on without communication, I shall shut off the Terran's communication."
"Then he will go rank staring, raving mad."
"No, for I shall offer him the alternative. Co-operate, or molder in utter blankness."
Huvane shrugged. "Seems to me that any Terran locked in a duralim cell so far from home the distance means nothing is already cut from communication."
"Deeper, deeper, Huvane. The brain lies prisoner within a cell of bone. Its contact with the Outside world lies along five channels of sensory communication. Everything that the brain believes about the Universe is the product of sensory information carried inward by sight, touch, sound, taste and smell. From five basic bits of information, knowledge of the Great Truth is formed through logic and self-argument. Everything."
"Oh, now stop. I am not expressing my own singular opinion. I believe a rather great proportion of the things that I was taught, and I was taught through the self-same five sensory channel."
"Good. Just plain 'Um-m-m.' Now we shall shut off the Terran's channels of communication until he consents as an alternative. This, Huvane, hasn't been tried before. It may bring us the final important bit of information."
Slowly the lights went out. Jerry Markham was prepared for dark isolation, he could do nothing about it so he accepted it by the simple process of a.s.suring himself that things were going to get worse before they got better.
The darkness became--absolute. Utter. Complete. Not even the dots and whorls and specks that are technically called "Visual noise" occurred. A level of mental alertness niggled at him; for nearly twenty-four years it had been a busy little chunk of his mind. It was that section that inspected the data for important program material and decided which was trivial and which was worthy of the Big Boy's attention. Now it was out of a job because there wasn't even a faint background count of plateau-noise to occupy its attention.
The silence grew--vast. Brain said that the solid walls were no more than ten feet from him; ears said that he was in the precise middle of absolutely nowhere. Feeling said that the floor was under his feet, ears said that upward pressure touched his soles. Deeper grew the deadening of his ears, and orientation was lost. Feeling remained and he felt his heart beating in a hunting rhythm because the sound-feedback through the ear was gone, and the hortator had lost his audible beat.
Feeling died and he knew not whether he stood or sat or floated askew. Feeling died and with it went that delicate motor control that directs the position of muscle and limb and enables a man to place his little finger on the tip of his nose with his eyes closed.
Aside from the presence of foreign matter, the taste of a clean mouth is--tasteless. The term is relative. Jerry Markham learned what real tastelessness was. It was flat and blank and--nothingness.
Chemists tell us that air is tasteless, colorless, and odorless, but when sense is gone abruptly one realizes that the air does indeed have its aroma.
In an unemployed body the primitive sensors of the mind had nothing to do, and like a man trained to busy-ness, loafing was their hardest task. Gone was every sensory stimulus. His heart pumped from habit, not controlled by the feedback of sound or feeling. He breathed, but he did not hear the inrush of air. Brain told him to be careful of his mouth, the sharp teeth could bite the dead tongue and he could bleed to death never feeling pain nor even the swift flow of salty warmth. Habit-trained nerves caused a false tickle in his throat; he never knew whether he coughed or whether he thought that he coughed.
The sense of time deserted him when the metronome of heartbeat died. Determined Brain compromised by a.s.suming that crude time could be kept by the function of hunger, elimination, weariness. Logical Brain pointed out that he could starve to death and feel nothing; elimination was a sensory thing no more; weariness was of the body that brought no information anyway--and what, indeed was sleep?
Brain considered this question. Brain said, I am Jerry Markham. But is it true that no brain can think of nothing? Is it possible that "Sleep" is the condition that obtains when the body stops conveying reliable information to the brain, and then says to h.e.l.l with Everything and decides to stop thinking?
The Brain called Jerry Markham did not stop thinking. It lost its time sense, but not completely. A period of time pa.s.sed, a whirlwind of thoughts and dreamlike actions went on, and then calmness came for a while.
Dreams? Now ponder the big question. Does the brain dream the dream as a sensory experience--or is a dream no more than a sequence of a.s.sorted memories? Would a dying brain expire in pleasure during a pleasant dream--or is the enjoyment of a pleasant dream only available to the after-awakened brain?
What is Man but his Memories?
In one very odd manner, the brain of Jerry Markham retained its intellectual orientation, and realized that its physical orientation was uncontrollable and undetectable and therefore of no importance. Like the lighthouse keeper who could not sleep when the diaphone did not wrneeee-hrnawwww for five seconds of each and every minute, Jerry Markham's brain was filled with a mild concern about the total lack of unimportant but habitual data. There was no speckle of light to cla.s.sify and ignore, no susurrus of air molecules raining against the eardrum. Blankness replaced the smell and taste and their absence was as disturbing as a pungence or a poison. And, of course, one should feel something if it is no more than the tonus of muscle against the mobile bones.
Communication is the prime drive of life. Cut off from external communication entirely, section A, bay 6, tier 9, row 13 hollered over to box Q, line 23, aisle F and wanted to know what was going on. The gang on the upper deck hailed the boiler room, and the crew in the bleacher seats reported that the folks in charge of C.I.C.--Communication Information Center--were sitting on their hands because they didn't have anything to do. One collection of bored brain cells stirred. They hadn't been called upon since Jerry Markham sang "Adeste Fidelis" in memorized Latin some fifteen years earlier and so they started the claque. Like an auditorium full of people impatient because the curtain had not gone up on time, bedlam broke loose.
Bedlam is subject to the laws of periodicity, stochastic a.n.a.lysis, and with some rather brilliant manipulation it can be reduced to a Fourier Series. Fourier says that Maxwell is right and goes on to define exactly when, in a series of combined periodicities of apparently random motion, all the little particles will be moving in the same direction. Stochastic a.n.a.lysis says that if the letter "U" follows the letter "Q" in most cases, words beginning with "Q" will have "U" for a second letter.
Jerry Markham began to think. Isolated and alone, prisoner in the cell of bone, with absolutely nothing to distract him, the Brain by common consent pounded a gavel, held a conference, appointed a chairman and settled down to do the one job that the Brain was a.s.sembled to do. In unison, ten to the sixteenth storage cells turned b.u.t.ter side up at the single wave of a mental flag.
He thought of his father and his mother; of his Sally. He thought of his commanding officer and of the fellows he liked and disliked. The primitive urge to communicate was upon him, because he must first establish communication before he could rise from the stony mineral stage to the exalted level of a vegetable. Bereft of his normal senses, undistracted by trivia such as noise and pain and the inestimable vastness of information bits that must be considered and evaluated, his brain called upon his memory and provided the background details.
The measured tread of a company of marching soldiers can wreck a bridge.
The cadence of ten to the sixteenth brain cells, undivided by the distraction of incoming information, broke down a mental barrier.
As vividly as the living truth, Jerry Markham envisioned himself sauntering down the sidewalk. The breeze was on his face and the pavement was beneath his feet, the air was laden with its myriad of smells and the flavor of a cigarette was on his tongue. His eyes saw Sally running toward him, her cry of greeting was a welcome sound and the pressure of her hug was strong and physical as the taste of her lips.
She hugged his arm and said, "Your folks are waiting."
Jerry laughed. "Let the general wait a bit longer," he said. "I've got a lot to tell him."
Huvane said, "Gone!" and the sound of his voice re-echoed back and forth across the empty cell.
"Gone," repeated Chelan. "Utterly incomprehensible, but none the less a fact. But how--? Isolated, alone, imprisoned--cut off from all communication. All communication--?"
"I'll get another specimen, chief."
Chelan shook his head. "Seven times we've slapped them down. Seven times we've watched their rise--and wondered how they did it. Seven times they would have surpa.s.sed us if we hadn't blocked them. Let them rise, let them run the Universe. They're determined to do that anyway. And now I think it's time for us to stop annoying our betters. I'd hate to face them if they were angry."
"But chief, he was cut off from all communication--?"
"Obviously," said Chelan, "not!"
NO HIDING PLACE.
By Richard R. Smith
The Earth was enveloped in atomic fire and the s.h.i.+p was a prize of war. But disaster may make victory mandatory.
The s.h.i.+p leaped toward the stars, its engines roaring with a desperate burst of energy and its bulkheads audibly protesting the tremendous pressures.
In the control room, Emmett Corbin listened to the screech of tormented metal and shuddered. The heat was suffocating, and acrid fumes a.s.sailed his nostrils and burned his eyes until he almost cried out in pain.
Despite the agony, his gaze did not waver from the video set across the room. In the screen, Earth was a rapidly diminis.h.i.+ng orb, charred and mottled with glowing atomic fires.
Everything, a far corner of his mind whispered. Everything on Earth is dead!
He was a carpenter and luckily, he had been working inside the barricades of an Army s.p.a.ceport when the news came that the enemy had broken through the defense ring beyond Pluto. He had continued nailing the cedar siding on the building, knowing that if he stopped his work and waited, he would start screaming.
An MP running by the building several minutes later had shouted at him, urging him to board one of the s.h.i.+ps on the landing field. In those last hours, they had loaded the few remaining s.p.a.ces.h.i.+ps as quickly as possible, ignoring the importance of the pa.s.sengers. He reflected that many millionaires and influential politicians were now dead simply because they hadn't been close enough to the s.p.a.ceports when the unexpected news came. Watching the pilots as they sat tense before the controls, he felt overcome with helplessness.
The pa.s.senger on his right was a girl--red-haired and undeniably attractive. He remembered her name. It was Gloria White, and she was the daughter of Colonel White who had led the expedition to Venus. Her father had died months before but his friends had used their influence to establish her as a secretary on the s.p.a.ceport where it was a.s.sumed she would be comparatively safe.
He had seen her frequently but almost always at a distance. She had been friendly enough, but she had never exchanged more than a few casual words with him. He had often paused in his work to admire her. But now, aboard one of the last s.h.i.+ps to leave Earth, he evaluated her only as another pa.s.senger.
The man on his left was dressed expensively. His general appearance radiated prestige although his fleshy face was filled with disbelief as if he were witnessing a fantastic nightmare.
Rinnnng! Rinnnng! Corbin's thoughts were interrupted by a clamoring alarm bell declaring by its volume and insistence that the danger was still acute. That bell will ring until the s.h.i.+p is destroyed, he thought wildly. It could very well mean that the s.h.i.+p will be destroyed!
The pilots leaped away from the controls as if they had abruptly become white hot. "Rocket," one of them screamed. "Enemy rocket on our tail!"
Corbin turned suddenly and ran across the room in sudden, blind panic. "We can't shake it! n.o.body can shake one!" Mumbling incoherently, he grabbed a s.p.a.cesuit and began to don it.
The room was suddenly a seething ma.s.s of confusion. The pilots distributed s.p.a.cesuits and helped pa.s.sengers into them while the cabin continued to sway and lurch. Fear-crazed pa.s.sengers ran aimlessly in circles. Some fainted and others were shocked into immobility.
The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Viii Part 97
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The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Viii Part 97 summary
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