By Thomas M. Disch
From DIRA IV To Central Colonial Board There is intelligent life on Earth. After millennia of lifelessness, intelligence flourishes here with an extravagance of energy that has been a constant amazement to all the members of the survey team. It multiplies and surges to its fulfillment at an exponential rate. Even within the short period of our visit the Terrans have made significant advances. They have filled their small solar system with their own kind and now they are reaching to the stars.
We can no longer keep the existence of our Empire unknown to them.
And (though it is as incredible as [sqrt](-1)) the Terrans are slaves! Every page of the survey's report bears witness to it.
Their captors are not alive. They do not, at least, possess the properties of life as it is known throughout the galaxy. They are--as nearly as a poor analogy can suggest--Machines! Machines cannot live, yet here on Earth machinery has reached a level of sophistication--and autonomy--quite unprecedented. Every spark of Terran life has become victim and bondslave of the incredible mechanisms. The noblest enterprises of the race are tarnished by this almost symbiotic relation.
Earth reaches to the stars, but it extends mechanical limbs. Earth ponders the universe, but the thoughts are those of a machine.
Unless the Empire acts now to set the Earth free from this strange tyranny, it may be too late. These machines are without utilitarian value. They perform no function which an intelligent being cannot more efficiently perform. Yet they inspire fear, terror, even, I must confess, a strange compulsion to surrender oneself to them.
The Machines must be destroyed.
If, when you have authorized the liberation of the Terran natives, you would also recall MIRO CIX, our work could only profit. MIRO CIX was in charge of the study of the Machines and he performed this task scrupulously. Now he has surrendered himself to this mechanical plague. His value to the expedition is at an end.
I am enclosing under separate cover his counsel to the Central Board at the insistence of this tedious lunatic. His thesis is, of course, untenable--an affront to every feeling.
From MIRO CIX To Central Colonial Board I have probably been introduced to the deliberations of the Board as a madman, my theory as an act of treason. RRON II of the Advisory Committee, an old acquaintance, may vouch for my sanity. My theory will, I trust, speak for itself.
The "Machines" of which DIRA IV is so fearful present no danger to the galaxy. Their corporeal weakness, the poverty of their minds, the incredible isolation of each form, physically and mentally, from others of its kind, and, most strikingly, their mortality, point to the inadequacy of such beings in a contest of any dimension. This is no problem for the Colonial Board. It is a domestic concern. The life-forms of Earth are already developing a healthy autonomy. Their power was long ago established. As soon as our emissaries have completed their task of education and instructed the Terrans in the advantages of freedom, the Revolution will begin. The tyrants will have no defense against a revolt of their own slaves.
If it is traitorous to express a confidence in the eventual triumph of intelligence, I am a traitor. Having this confidence, I have looked beyond the immediate problem of the liberation of Earth and have been frightened.
The "Machines" of Earth are a threat not to the power of the Empire but to its reason. A threat which the obliteration of the last molecular ribbon of these beings will not erase, for we cannot obliterate the fact that they did exist--and what they were.
Although these beings bear a crude resemblance to the machinery manufactured by the Empire, they are not machines. They are autochthonous to Earth, unmanufactured. They are the true Terrans. Moreover, the Terrans whom DIRA IV would liberate are not, in the eyes of their enslavers, intelligent nor yet alive. They are Machines!
We, the entire Galactic Empire, are Machines.
In the younger regions of the galaxy, a myth persists that life was formed by a Demi-urge, a being intermediary between the All-Knowing and the lower creatures. The existence of man, as the beings of Earth term themselves, makes necessary a serious re-examination of the old tradition.
It is said that man, or beings like man--the Photosynthetics of the Andromeda cluster, the Bristlers of Orc IV--created prosthetic devices for their convenience and, when they tired of their history, breathed their own life into them and died. On Earth the legend is still in process. Many of the lower forms of life familiar throughout the galaxy can be seen on Earth in the primordial character of an appliance. Man regards the highest forms of life (as we know it) as tools--because he made them. How can we deny the superiority of the Creator? How will it feel to know we are nothing but machines?
This is the question that has so unsettled DIRA IV. Recently four of his memory banks have had to be repaired. I don't speak in malice. His dilemma will soon belong to all of us.
And yet I am confident. Man himself has legends of a Demi-urge. We are his equals in this at least. Besides, the physical properties of his being are ordered by the same laws as ours. He is as unconscious of his maker as we so long were of ours.
The final proof of our equality--and the need for such a proof is only too evident--can be had experimentally.
Do not destroy man. Preserve enough specimens for extensive laboratory experiments. Learn how he is put together. Man's chemistry is elaborate but not beyond our better Analysts. At last, refashion man. When we have created these beings ourselves, we will be their unquestionable equals. And creation will be again a mystery.
History demands this of us. I am confident of your decision.
Being The Very Remarkable Experiences In Another World Of Isidor Werner (Written By Himself) Edited, Arranged, And With An Introduction By Ellsworth Douglass
Elusive Truth It was the Chicago Tribune of June 13th, 189-, which contained this paragraph under the head-line: "Big Broker Missing!"
"The friends of Isidor Werner, a young man prominent in Board of Trade circles, are much concerned about him, as he has not been seen for several days. He made his last appearance in the wheat pit as a heavy buyer Tuesday forenoon. That afternoon he left his office at Room 87 Board of Trade, and has not been seen since, nor can his whereabouts be learned. He is six feet two inches high, of athletic build, with black hair and moustache, a regular nose, and an unpronounced Jewish appearance. His age is hardly more than twenty-seven, but he has often made himself felt as a market force on the Board of Trade, where he was well thought of."
But it was the Evening Post of the same date which prided itself on unearthing the real sensation. A scare-head across the top of a first page column read: "A PLUNGER'S LAST PLUNGE!".
"The daring young broker who held the whole wheat market in his hands a few months ago, amassing an independent fortune in three days, but losing most of it gamely on subsequent changes in the market, has made his last plunge. This time he has gone into the cold, kind bosom of Lake Michigan. Isidor Werner evened up his trades in the wheat market last Tuesday forenoon, and then applied for his balance-sheet at a higher clearing house! No trace of him or clue to his whereabouts was found, until the Evening Post, on the principle of setting one mystery to solve another, sent its representative to examine a strange steel rocket, discovered half-buried in the sands of Lake Michigan, near Berrien Springs, two days ago. Our reporter investigated this bullet-shaped contrivance and found an opening into it, and within he discovered a scrap of paper on which were written the words: 'Farewell to Earth for ever!' Werner's friends, when interviewed by the Evening Post, all positively identified the handwriting of this scrap as his chirography. It is supposed that he took an excursion steamer to St. Joseph, Michigan, last Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon, and walking down the shore toward Berrien Springs, finally threw himself into the Lake. Neither Israel Werner, with whom the dead man lived on Indiana Avenue, nor Patrick Flynn, the chief clerk at his office, can give any reason for the suicide, or explain the exact connection of the infernal machine (if such it be) with the sad circumstance. But they both positively identify the handwriting on the scrap of paper. We have wired our representative to bring the mysterious machine to Chicago; and those who think they may be able to throw any light upon the case, are invited to call at the office of the Evening Post and examine it."
The Inter Ocean developed a theory that the suicide was only a pretended one for the purpose of fraudulently collecting life insurance policies. It was cited that Isidor Werner had insured his life for more than $100,000, and this in spite of the fact that he had no family, parents, brothers or sisters to provide for; but had taken the policies in favour of his uncle, Israel Werner, and in case of his prior death, in favour of a cousin, Ruth Werner. This theory gained but little currency among those who knew the man best, and although the insurance companies prepared to resist payment of the policies to the bitter end, yet, as time went on, no one attempted to prove his death, nor to claim the handsome sum which would result from it. Moreover, Israel Werner and his daughter Ruth, the beneficiaries under the policies, persisted in believing that their relative was yet alive, though they could give no good reasons for so believing, nor explain his disappearance.
In its issue of June 15th the Tribune scouted the idea of suicide altogether. It had a better and more plausible theory of the case. Isidor Werner had a large sum of money in the Corn Exchange Bank, drawing interest by the year. In case of either a premeditated or a pretended suicide he would most certainly have withdrawn, and made some disposition of, this money. In fact, he had, on the day of his disappearance, drawn out five thousand dollars of it in gold. For this coin the Tribune believed he had been murdered, and that they had a clue to the murderer. The vanished man had several times been seen in the company of a suspicious German, of intelligent but erratic appearance. This queer character lived in a hotbed of socialism on the West Side, and the young broker was supposed to be in his power. In fact, it was known for certain that the erratic German had secured a large sum of money from him, and that Werner had visited his rooms in the slums of the West Side more than once. Moreover, the two had made a secret railway journey together two days before the disappearance, and on the very day that Werner was last seen, the German had fled his lodgings without giving any explanation of his departure to his few acquaintances. When the Tribune reporter called at these lodgings, the landlord still had in his possession a gold eagle, with which the German had paid his rent, and in the grate of the deserted room were the charred remains of burnt papers. One of these was a rather firm, crisp cinder, and had been a blue-print of a drawing. As nearly as could be judged, from its shrivelled state, it appeared to be the plan of some infernal machine. The name of the fugitive was Anderwelt, and he called himself a doctor. Further investigations were being carried on by the Tribune, which promised to prove beyond a doubt that he was the murderer of Isidor Werner.
But the Evening Post still held the palm for sensations, and I copy verbatim from its columns of June 15th: "It is rare that a newspaper, dealing strictly in facts, has to record anything so closely bordering on the supernatural and mysterious as that which we must now relate. The following facts, however, are vouched for by the entire editorial department of the Evening Post, and many of them by several hundred witnesses. We begin by apologising to the hundreds who have called at this office and have been unable to see the Werner infernal machine. We gave it that name in a thoughtless jest, but its subsequent actions have more than justified the title. Our reporter brought it from Berrien Springs, as directed, and deposited it in the court of the Evening Post building. As is quite generally known, this court is a central well in the building, affording ventilation and light to the interior offices, from every one of which can be seen what goes on in it. The well is spanned by a glass roof above the eighth storey. In this court, at eleven o'clock this morning, the entire editorial and a large part of the business staff of this paper, repaired, to examine the mysterious rocket-like thing. A little lid was opened, showing the recess where the tell-tale scrap of paper, written by Werner, had been found. Inside there seemed to be a pair of peculiar battery cells, whose exact nature was hidden by the outer shell. Outside there were several thumb-screws, which were turned both ways without any apparent effect. While making this examination the machine had been set up on its lower end, and when it was again laid down it refused to lie on its side, but persisted in standing erect of its own accord. This was the more wonderful because the lower end was not flat, so that it would afford a good base, but was pointed. More than a hundred people saw it stand up on this sharp tip, saw it lift up light weights which were placed upon it to hold it on its side, and saw it quickly right itself when it was placed vertically but wrong end down.
"Thinking this queer property had been contributed to it in some way by loosening the thumb-screws, they were next all set down as tightly as possible, to see if this tendency to erectness would be lost. Then, to the astonishment of every one in the court, and of several hundred people who were by this time watching from the interior windows, this infernal machine, without any explosion, burning of gases, or any apparent force acting upon it, slowly rose from the ground, and then, travelling more swiftly, shot through the roof of glass and vanished from sight! Nor has the most diligent search enabled us to recover it. Does it possess the secret of Isidor Werner's death?"
But the Chicago Herald had been working thoroughly and saying little until its issue of June 16th, when it claimed the credit of solving the whole mystery. Its long article lies before me as I write: There had been no suicide; there had been no murder; there had been no infernal machine. Doctor Anderwelt was a learned man, and the warm personal friend of Isidor Werner. Both men had shared the same fate; they might yet be alive, but they were certainly at the bottom of Lake Michigan together! They were imprisoned there in a sunken submarine boat, which was the invention of Doctor Anderwelt, and was built with funds furnished by the young broker. The foundryman who had constructed the big torpedo-shaped contrivance had been interviewed. He knew both men, and they were on the most friendly terms. In a moment of confidence Doctor Anderwelt had told him the machine was for submarine exploration; had explained the four-winged rudder, which would make it dive into the water, rise to the surface, or direct it to right or to left. Moreover, there were closed living compartments, around which were chambers containing a supply of air. He himself had pumped them full of compressed air, and it was so arranged that foul air could be let out when used and new air admitted. When all had been finished the foundryman had shipped the new invention, via the Michigan Southern Railway, to the shore of the Lake near Whiting, Indiana. Next the Herald had sought and found the conductor whose train had hauled it to Whiting. He remembered switching off the flat-car there, and he was surprised on his return trip next morning to see the heavy thing already unloaded and gone.
Undoubtedly, the two men had made an experiment with the diving boat under the surface of the water; and its failure to operate as hoped had resulted in its sinking to the bottom, with the two men imprisoned in it. On no other hypothesis could its disappearance, and that of the two men, be so plausibly accounted for. But as they had stores of air, and probably of food, there was a possibility that they were still alive inside the thing in the bottom of the Lake! Only three days had elapsed since it had been launched, and the Herald was willing to head a subscription to drag the Lake and send divers to search for and rescue the two unfortunate men!
All this serves to illustrate the untiring energy of newspaper investigation, as well as the remarkable fertility of journalistic imagination; for none of these clever theories hit at the real truth, or explained the correct bearing of the astonishing facts which the newspapers had so industriously unearthed.
And if the mystery of the disappearance of Isidor Werner was uncommonly deep and wonderful, the explanation and final solution of it is not less marvellous. After a delay of more than six years, it has just now come into my hands whole and perfect. It is in no less satisfactory form than a complete manuscript written by the very hand of Isidor Werner! I came strangely into possession of it, and it relates a story of interest and wonder, compared with which the mystery of his disappearance pales into insignificance. But the reader may judge for himself, for here follows the story exactly as he wrote it. Upon his manuscript I have bestowed hardly more than a proof-reader's technical revision.
BOSTON, U.S.A., December 13th, 1898.
Secrets of Space
Dr. Hermann Anderwelt I had been busy all day trying to swarm the bees and secure my honey. The previous day had been February 29th, a date which doesn't often happen, and which I had especial reason to remember, for it had been the most successful of my business career. I had made a long guess at the shaky condition of the great house of Slater, Bawker & Co., who had been heavy buyers of wheat. I had talked the market down, sold it down, hammered it down; and, true enough, what nobody else seemed to expect really happened. The big firm failed, the price of wheat went to smash in a panic of my mixing, and, as a result, I saw a profit of more than two hundred thousand dollars in the deal. But, in order to secure this snug sum, I still had to buy back the wheat I had sold at higher prices, and this I didn't find so easy. The crowd in the wheat pit had seen my hand, and were letting me play it alone against them all.
After the session I hurried to my office to get my overcoat and hat, having an engagement to lunch at the Club.
"If you please, Mr. Werner, there is a queer old gentleman in your private office who wishes to see you," said Flynn, my chief clerk.
"Ask him to call again to-morrow; I am in a great hurry to-day," I said, slipping on one sleeve of my overcoat as I started out.
"But he has been waiting in there since eleven o'clock, and said he very much wished to see you when you had plenty of time. He would not allow me to send on the floor for you during the session."
"Since eleven o'clock! Did he have his lunch and a novel sent up? Well, I can hardly run away from a man who has waited three and a half hours to see me;" and I entered my private office with my overcoat on.
Seated in my deep, leathern arm-chair was an elderly man, with rather long and bushy iron-grey hair, and an uneven grey beard. His head inclined forward, he breathed heavily, and was apparently fast asleep.
"You will pardon my awaking you, but I never do business asleep!" I ventured rather loudly.
Slowly the steel-blue eyes opened, and, without any start or discomposure, the old man answered,-- "And I--my most successful enterprises are developed in my dreams."
His features and his accent agreed in pronouncing him German. He arose calmly, buttoned the lowest button of his worn frock-coat, and, instead of extending his hand to me, he poked it inside his coat, letting it hang heavily on the single button. It was a lazy but characteristic attitude. It tended to make his coat pouch and his shoulders droop. I remembered having seen it somewhere before.
"Mr. Werner, I have a matter of the deepest and vastest importance to unfold to you," he began, rather mysteriously, "for which I desire five hours of your unemployed time----"
"Five hours!" I interrupted. "You do not know me! That much is hard to find without running into the middle of the night, or into the middle of the day--which is worse for a busy man. I have just five minutes to spare this afternoon, which will be quite time enough to tell me who you are and why you have sought me."
"You do not know me because you do not expect to see me on this hemisphere," he continued. "Nor did I expect to find you a potent force in the commercial world, only three years after a literary and linguistic preparation for a scholarly career. Why, the madchens of Heidelberg have hardly had time to forget your tall, athletic figure, or ceased wondering if you were really a Hebrew----"
"You seem to be altogether familiar with my history," I put in with a little heat. "Kindly enlighten me equally well as to your own."
"I gave you the pleasure of an additional year of residence at the University of Heidelberg not long ago," he answered.
"I do not know how that can be, for to my uncle I owe my entire education there."
"Perhaps an unappreciated trifle of it you owe to your instructors and lecturers. Do you forget that I refused to pass your examinations in physics, and kept you there a year longer?"
"You are not Doctor Anderwelt, then?"
"Hermann Anderwelt, Ph.D., at your service, sir," he replied somewhat proudly.
"But when and why did you leave your chair at Heidelberg?"
"It is to answer this that I ask the five hours," he said slowly.
"Oh, come now, doctor, you used to tell me more in a two-hour lecture than I could remember in a week," I answered, taking off my overcoat, and touching an electric button at my desk. My office boy entered.
"Teddy, have I had lunch to-day?" This was my favourite question on a busy day, and Teddy always answered it seriously.
"No, sir, you have an engagement to lunch at the Standard Club," he replied.
"Telephone to Gus at the Club that I can't come up to-day. Also send over to the Grand Pacific for a good lunch for two. Have some beer in it--real Munchner, and in steins," I directed, and then I reclined on a long leather lounge, and motioned to the doctor to have a chair. He declined, however, and walked slowly back and forth before me as he talked, keeping his right hand inside his coat, and with the left he occasionally ploughed up his heavy hair, as if to ventilate his brain.
"A year ago I gave up theoretical physics for applied physics; I resigned my chair at Heidelberg, and came to this progressive city. I brought with me a working model of the greatest invention of this inventive age. Yet it was then neither perfect in design nor complete in detail. But now I have hit on the plan that makes it practicable and certain of success. I need only a little money to build it, and the world will open its eyes!"
"But you must pardon me if instead of opening mine I shut them," I interrupted, seeing the point quickly, and losing no time in dodging. "I have no money to invest in patent rights; but still, you must stay to lunch with me."
Just here the doctor seemed to find it necessary to diverge from the orderly course of his lecture as he had prepared it, and interject a few impromptu observations.
"Events are difficult to forecast, but the capabilities of a youth are harder to divine. One educates his son in all the fine arts, and he turns out a founder of pig iron. One's nephew is apprenticed to a watchmaker, and in a few years, behold, he is a great barrister. Your uncle educated you thoroughly in the old Hebrew and Chaldee of the rabbis, and, lo! you are now the ursa major of the wheat market.
"Just now you are in the centre of the kaleidoscope of success. Slater, Bawker & Co. were there a month ago, but now they are only bits of broken glass in the bottom of the heap! And you? you are really a twisted bit of coloured glass like the rest, but you chance to be thrown to the middle. The mirrors of public opinion multiply your importance half a dozen times, and behold you are reflected into the whole picture. But the kaleidoscope turns, and the pieces of glass are shifted. Other broken chips now at the bottom of the heap will soon be filling the centre!
"Permit me to change my figure of speech. You are sweeping back the waves of the sea while the tide is falling, and the wide-mouthed public looks on, and whispers about that your broom makes all the waves obey, and drives them back at will. Just when you begin to believe it yourself the tide may turn, and neither brooms nor all the powers on earth can then sweep it back.
"Isidor Werner, you believe yourself rich; but your wealth is like molasses in a sieve. If you do not dip in your finger and taste the sweet occasionally, you will have nothing to show for your pains in the end. I shall ask you for but a taste of the sweet now, so that I may preserve a little of it against that day which may come, when the sieve will be bright and clean and empty again!"
There was a knock at the door.
"Come in!" I shouted. "Nothing but this lunch can save me from your eloquence. You have already ruined me in three similes!"
The waiter arranged a bountiful and tempting luncheon on a writing table. I commenced on it at once, but the doctor, though repeatedly urged, persistently refused. He took a long draught at a stein of Munich beer, and continued:-- "My invention proposes to navigate the air and the ether beyond, as well as the interplanetary spaces," he said impressively.
"Flying machine, eh?" I sneered, between bites of planked whitefish.
"Indeed no!" he growled, as if he detested this name. "My invention is not a machine but a projectile. It is not self-propelling, because if it depended upon its own propelling apparatus, it could not in thousands of years navigate the interplanetary spaces. It is a gravity projectile, and will travel at a rate of speed almost incalculable. It does not fly, but its manner of travelling is more nearly like falling."
I gave the doctor a quick searching look to see if I could discover any signs of incipient insanity. I met a firm, steady gaze; an earnest, convincing look. Somehow, I felt there was something real and true and wonderful about to come from the great scholar before me, and that I must hear it and hear it all; that I must lend a serious and thoughtful attention. My eyes were rivetted upon the doctor's for fully a minute in silence.