Authors: Poul Anderson
“Naw!” Brock felt his mouth falling open.
“I tell you, I saw it! One of ’em stood up on her hind legs and nosed the latch up. She did it all by herself. And the others were crowding right behind her. Oh, no, no, no!”
Joe came out of the woods, driving a pig before him with sardonic barks. She seemed to give up after a minute and trotted quietly toward the pen. Wilmer turned like a machine and opened the gate again and let her go in.
“Good boy!” Brock patted the silken head that nuzzled against him. “Smart dog!”
“Too God damned smart.” Wilmer narrowed his eyes. “Did a dog ever make like that before?”
“Sure,” said Brock uncertainly.
Joe got off his haunches and went back into the woods.
“I’ll bet he’s going after another pig.” There was a kind of horror in Wilmer’s voice.
“Sure. He’s a smart dog, he is.”
“I’m going to see Bill Bergen about this.” Wilmer turned on his heel. Brock looked after him, shrugged heavy shoulders, and went back to his own task. By the time
he finished it, Joe had rounded up two more pigs and brought them back, and was mounting guard at the gate of the pen.
“Good fellow,” said Brock. “I’ll see yuh get a bone for this.” He hitched Tom and Jerry, who had been standing at their ease. “All right, yuh bums, let’s go. Giddap!”
Slowly, the horses backed. “Hey!” screamed Brock.
This time they didn’t stop with the tongue. Very carefully, they walked onto the plow itself and bent its iron frame with their weight and broke off the coulter. Brock felt his throat dry.
“No,” he mumbled.
Wilmer nearly had a fit when he learned about the horses. Bergen only stood there, whistling tunelessly. “I don’t know.” He scratched his sandy head. “Tell you what. We’ll call off all work having to do with animals, except feeding and milking, of course. Padlock every gate and have somebody check all our fence lines. I’ll see the old man about this.”
“Me, I’m gonna carry a gun,” said Wilmer.
“Well, it might not be a bad idea,” said Bergen.
Archie Brock was assigned to look at one section, a four-mile line enclosing the woods. He took Joe, who gamboled merrily in his wake, and went off glad to be alone for a change.
How still the forest was! Sunlight slanted down through green unstirring leaves, throwing a dapple on the warm brown shadows. The sky was utterly blue overhead, no clouds, no wind. His feet scrunched dully on an occasional clod or stone, he brushed against a twig and it scratched very faintly along his clothes, otherwise the land was altogether silent. The birds seemed to have quieted down all at once, no squirrels were in sight, even the sheep had withdrawn into the inner woods. He thought uneasily that somehow the whole green world had a waiting feel to it.
Like before a storm, maybe?
He could see how people would be scared if the animals started getting smarter. If they were really smart, would they keep on letting humans lock them up and work them and castrate them and kill and skin and eat them? Suppose
Tom and Jerry, now—But they were so gentle!
And—wait—weren’t the people getting smarter too? It seemed like in the last couple of days they’d been talking more, and it wasn’t all about the weather and the neighbors either, it was about things like who was going to win the next election and why a rear-engine drive was better in a car. They’d always talked like that now and then, sure, but not so much, and they hadn’t had so much to say, either. Even Mrs. Bergen, he’d seen her reading a magazine, and all she ever did before in her spare time was watch TV.
I’m getting smarter too!
The knowledge was like a thunderclap. He stood there for a long while, not moving, and Joe came up and sniffed his hand in a puzzled way.
I’m getting smarter
Sure—it had to be. The way he’d been wondering lately, and remembering things, and speaking out when he’d never said anything much before—what else could it be? All the world was getting smarter.
I can read
, he told himself.
Not very good, but they did teach me the al-pha-bet, and I can read a comic book. Maybe I can read a real book now
Books had the answers to what he was suddenly wondering about, things like the sun and moon and stars, why there was winter and summer, why they had wars and Presidents and who lived on the other side of the world and—
He shook his head, unable to grasp the wilderness that rose up inside him and spread till it covered creation further than he could see. He’d never wondered before. Things just happened and were forgotten again.
He looked at his hands, marveling.
Who am I? What am I doing here?
There was a boiling in him. He leaned his head against the cool trunk of a tree, listening to the blood roar in his ears.
Please, God, let it be real. Please make me like other people
After a while he fought it down and went on, checking the fence as he had been told.
In the evening, after chores, he put on a clean suit and went up to the big house. Mr. Rossman was sitting on the
porch, smoking a pipe and turning the pages of a book over in his thin fingers, not really seeing it. Brock paused timidly, cap in hand, till the owner looked up and spied him.
“Oh, hello, Archie,” he said in his soft voice. “How are you tonight?”
“I’m all right, thank you.” Brock twisted the cap between his stumpy hands and shifted from one foot to another. “Please, can I see you for a minute?”
“Why, of course. Come on in.” Mr. Rossman laid his book aside and sat smoking while Brock opened the screen door and walked over to him. “Here, take a chair.”
“That’s all right, thanks. I—” Brock ran his tongue across dry lips. “I’d just like to ask you ’bout something.”
“Ask away, Archie.” Mr. Rossman leaned back. He was a tall spare man, his face thinly carved, proud under its kindness of the moment, his hair white. Brock’s parents had been tenants of his, and when it became plain that their son would never amount to anything, he had taken charge of the boy. “Everything okay?”
“Well, it’s about, uh, about this change here.”
“Eh?” Rossman’s gaze sharpened. “What change?”
“You know. The animals getting smart and uppity.”
“Oh, yes. That.” Rossman blew a cloud of smoke. “Tell me, Archie, have you noticed any change in yourself?”
“Yes, I, uh, well, I think maybe I have.”
Rossman nodded. “You wouldn’t have come here if you hadn’t changed.”
“What’s happening, Mr. Rossman? What’s gone wrong?”
“I don’t know, Archie. Nobody knows.” The old man looked out into a gathering blue twilight. “Are you so sure it’s wrong, though? Maybe something is finally going right.”
“You don’t know—”
“No. Nobody knows.” Rossman’s pale blue-veined hand slapped the newspaper on the table beside him. “There are hints here. The knowledge is creeping out. I’m sure much more is known, but the government has suppressed the information for fear of a panic.” He grinned with a certain viciousness. “As if a world-wide phenomenon could be kept secret! But they’ll hang on to their stupidity to the very end in Washington.”
“But, Mr. Rossman—” Brock lifted his hands and let them fall again. “What can we do?”
“Wait. Wait and see. I’m going to the city soon, to find out for myself—those pet brains of mine at the Institute should—”
Rossman shook his head, smiling. “Poor Archie. There’s a horror in being helpless, isn’t there? I sometimes think that’s why men fear death—not because of oblivion, but because it’s foredoomed, there’s nothing they can do to stop it. Even fatalism is a refuge from that, in a way—But I digress, don’t I?”
He sat smoking for a long while. The summer dusk chirred and murmured around them. “Yes,” he said at last, “I feel it in myself too. And it’s not altogether pleasant. Not just the nervousness and the nightmares—that’s merely physiological, I suppose—but the thoughts. I’ve always imagined myself as a quick, capable, logical thinker. Now something is coming to life within me that I don’t understand at all. Sometimes my whole life seems to have been a petty and meaningless scramble. And yet I thought I’d served my family and my country well.” He smiled once more. “I do hope I’ll see the end of this, though. It should be interesting!”
Tears stung Brock’s eyes. “What can I do?”
“Do? Live. Live from day to day. What else can a man do?” Rossman got up and put his hand on Brock’s shoulder. “But keep on thinking. Keep your thinking close to the ground, where it belongs. Don’t ever trade your liberty for another man’s offer to do your thinking and make your mistakes for you. I had to play the feudal lord with you, Archie, but it may be that that’s no longer necessary.”
Brock didn’t understand most of it. But it seemed Mr. Rossman was telling him to be cheerful, that this wasn’t such a bad thing after all. “I though maybe I could borrow some books,” he said humbly. “I’d like to see if I can read them now.”
“Why, of course, Archie. Come on into the library. I’ll see if I can find something suitable for you to begin no—”
Selections from the New York
, June 23:
PRESIDENT DENIES DANGER IN
‘Keep Cool, Stay on Job,’ Advises
White House—No Harm
To Humans in Change
U. S. Scientists Working On
Problem—Expect Answer Soon
FALLING STOCK MARKET WORRIES
Declining Sales Bring Down
Stock Market and Prices
U. S. In Danger of Recession,
CHINESE TROOPS MUTINY