Authors: Poul Anderson
“Huh?” Corinth’s eyes fell on a book lying on the seat “Oh, you’ve been studying radio, have you? Cadogan is pretty stiff to start out on, you should try reading—”
“I seen circuit diagrams, Mr. Corinth. I wanna know why they work, only Cadogan here just gives the equations.”
Corinth referred him to a text on vector calculus. “When you’ve been through that, come see me again.” He was smiling when he got off on the seventh floor, but his smile faded as he walked down the corridor.
Lewis was in his laboratory, waiting for him. “Late,” he grunted.
“Sheila,” replied Corinth.
The conversation here was rapidly becoming a new language. When your mind was of quadrupled capability, a single word, a gesture of hand, a flicker of expression, could convey more to one who knew you and your mannerisms than whole paragraphs of grammatical English.
“You’re late this morning,” Lewis had meant. “Have any trouble?”
“I got started late because of Sheila,” Corinth had told him. “She’s not taking this well at all, Nat, frankly, I’m worried about her. Only what can I do? I don’t understand human psychology any more, it’s changing too much and too fast. Nobody does. We’re all becoming strangers to each other—to ourselves—and it’s frightening.”
Lewis’s heavy body moved forward. “Come on. Rossman’s here and wants a confab with us.”
They went down the corridor, leaving Johansson and Grunewald immersed in their work: measuring the changed constants of nature, recalibrating instruments, performing all the enormous basic labor of science again from the ground up.
Throughout the building the other departments mapped out the altered faces of their own disciplines. Cybernetics, chemistry, biology, above all psychology—men grudged the time for sleep, there was so much to do.
The department heads were gathered around a long table in the main conference room. Rossman sat at its end,
tall and thin and white-haired, no movement in his austere features. Helga Arnulfsen was at his right and Felix Mandelbaum at his left. For an instant Corinth wondered what the labor organizer was doing here, then realized that he must be representing the emergency city government.
“Good day, gentlemen.” Rossman went through the forms of Edwardian courtesy with a punctilio that would have been laughable if it were not so obviously a desperate effort to cling to something real and known. “Please be seated.”
Everyone seemed to be here now, for Rossman got directly to business:
“I have just returned from Washington. I have called you together because I feel that an exchange of ideas and information is urgently needed. You will feel better for knowing what I can give you of the over-all picture, and I will certainly be happier for what scientific explanation you have found. Together we may be able to plan intelligently.”
“As for the explanation,” said Lewis, “we’ve pretty well agreed here at the Institute that Dr. Corinth’s theory is the right one. This postulates a force-field of partly electromagnetic character, generated by gyromagnetic action within atomic nuclei near the center of the galaxy. It radiates outward in a cone which, by the time it has reached our section of space, is many light-years across. Its effect has been to inhibit certain electromagnetic and electrochemical processes, among which the functioning of certain types of neurones is prominent. We suppose that the Solar System, in its orbit around galactic center, entered this force-field many millions of years ago—hardly later than the Cretaceous. Doubtless many species of that time died out. However, life as a whole survived—adapted nervous systems compensated for the inhibiting force by becoming that much more efficient. In short, all life forms today are—or were, immediately before the change—about as intelligent as they would have been anyway.”
“I see,” nodded Rossman. “And then the sun and its planets moved out of the force-field.”
“Yes. The field must have a rather sharp boundary, as
such things go in astronomy, for the change took place within a few days. The fringe of the field—from the region of full intensity to the region of no effect at all—is perhaps only ten million miles wide. We’re definitely out of it now; physical constants have remained stable for several days.”
“But our minds haven’t,” said Mandelbaum bleakly.
“I know,” cut in Lewis. “We’ll come to that in a minute. The general effect of Earth’s coming out of the inhibitor field was, of course, a sudden zooming of intelligence in every life form possessing a brain. Suddenly the damping force to which every living organism was adjusted, was gone.
“Naturally, the lack of that force has produced an enormous unbalance. Nervous systems have tended to run wild, trying to stabilize and function on a new level; that’s why everybody felt so jumpy and frightened to begin with. The physical layout of the brain is adapted to one speed—one set of speeds, rather—of neurone signals; now suddenly the speed is increased while the physical structure remains the same. In plain language, it’ll take us a while to get used to this.”
“Why aren’t we dead?” asked Grahovitch, the chemist. “I should think our hearts and so on would start working like mad.”
“The autonomic nervous system has been relatively little affected,” said Lewis. “It seems to be a matter of cellular type; there are many different kinds of nerve cells, you know, and apparently only those in the cerebral cortex have reacted much to the change. Even there, the rate of functioning has not really gone up much—the factor is small—but apparently the processes involved in consciousness are so sensitive that it has made an enormous difference to what we call thought.”
“But we will survive?”
“Oh, yes, I’m sure no physiological damage will result—to most people, anyway. Some have gone insane, to be sure, but that’s probably more for psychological than histological reasons.”
“And—will we enter another such force-field?” queried Rossman.
“Hardly,” said Corinth. “On the basis of theory, I’m pretty sure there can only be one such, at most, in any galaxy. With the sun requiring some two hundred million years for its orbit around galactic center—well, we should have more than half that period before we have to start worrying about getting stupid again.”
“M-hm. I see, gentlemen. Thank you very much.” Rossman leaned forward, clasping his thin fingers before him. “Now as to what I have been able to find out, I fear it is not much, and that little is bad news. Washington is a madhouse. Many key men have already left their posts; it seems that there are more important things in life than administering Public Law Number Such and such—”
“Well, I’m afraid they’re right,” grinned Lewis sardonically.
“No doubt. But let us face it, gentlemen; however little we may like the present system we cannot scrap it overnight.”
“What’s the word from overseas?” asked Weller, the mathematician. “How about Russia?”
“We’d be helpless against an armed attack,” said Rossman, “but what military intelligence we have left indicates that the Soviet dictatorship is having troubles of its own.”
He sighed. “First things first, gentlemen. We have to worry about our own breakdown. Washington grows more helpless every day: fewer and fewer people listen to the President’s commands and appeals, less and less force is at his disposal. In many areas martial law has already been declared, but any attempt to enforce it would only mean civil war. Reorganization is going to have to be on a local basis. That is essentially the news I bring to you.”
“We’ve been working on it, here in New York,” said Mandelbaum. He looked tired, burned out by days and nights of unresting effort. “I’ve got the unions pretty well into line by now. Arrangement will be made to bring in and distribute food, and we hope to get a volunteer militia to maintain some kind of order.”
He turned to Rossman. “You’re an able organizer. Your other interests, your businesses and your factories, are going down the drain, and here’s a job which has to be done. Will you help us?”
“Of course,” nodded the old man. “And the Institute—”
“Will have to keep going. We’ve got to understand just what’s happened and what we can expect in the near future. We’ve got to have a thousand things developed immediately if not sooner.”
The talk turned to organizational details. Corinth had little to say. He was too worried about Sheila. Last night she had woken up screaming.
WATO the witch doctor was tracing figures in the dust outside his thatch hut and muttering to himself. M’Wanzi heard him through the clank of weapons and the thick voices of the drums, as tall warriors passed back and forth: “—the law of similarity, that like causes like, may be expressed in the form
or not-ya, thus showing that this form of magic obeys the rule of universal causality. But how to fit in the law of contagion—?”
M’Wanzi threw him an amused look as he strode by. Let the old man build his dusty dreams as he wished. The rifle on his shoulder was solid reality and enough for him. And it would be guns and not magic which fulfilled an ancient wish.
Free the black man! Drive the white oppressors back beyond the sea! Since his youth and the days of horror on the plantation, it had been his life. But only now—
Well, he had not been frightened by that which was happening within his soul, as the others were. He had seized this power to think with a swift fierce gladness, and his will had dominated whole tribes driven half-crazy with fear, ready to turn anywhere for the comfort of leadership. Over thousands of miles, from Congo jungles to the veldts of the south, men tormented and enslaved and spat upon
had lifted weary faces to a message blown down the wind. Now was the time to strike, before the white man also rallied—the scheme was ready, lying in the soul of M’Wanzi the Elephant, the campaign was planned in a few flashing days, the subtle tongue won over leaders of a hundred conflicting groups, the army was stirring to life, now was the time to be free!
The drums talked around him as he went toward the edge of the jungle. He stepped through a wall of canebrake into the thick hot shadows of the forest. Another shadow moved down, flitted across the earth and waited grotesquely before him. Wise brown eyes regarded him with an inborn sadness.
“Have you gathered the brethren of the forest?” asked M’Wanzi.
“They come soon,” said the ape.
That had been M’Wanzi’s great realization. All the rest, the organization, the planned campaign, that was nothing beside this: that if the souls of men had suddenly grown immensely bigger, so also the souls of animals must have grown. His guess had been confirmed by terrified stories of raids on farms made by elephants of demoniac cunning, but when those reports came he was already working out a common language of clicks and grunts with a captured chimpanzee. The apes had never been much less intelligent than man, M’Wanzi suspected. Today he could offer them much in exchange for their help; and were they not Africans too?
“My brother of the forest, go tell your people to make ready.”
“Not all of them wish this thing, brother of the fields. They must be beaten before they wish it. That takes time.”
“Time we have little of. Use the drums as I taught you. Send word throughout the land and let the hosts gather at the appointed places.”
“It shall be as you wish. When next the moon rises full, the children of the forest shall be there, and they shall be armed with knives and blowguns and assagais as you showed me.”
“Brother of the forest, you have gladdened my heart. Go with fortune and carry that word.”
The ape turned and swung lithely up a tree. A stray sunbeam gleamed off the rille slung at his back.
Corinth sighed, yawned, and got up from his desk, shoving the papers away. He did not say anything aloud, but to his assistants, hunched over some testing apparatus, the meaning was clear: (To hell with it. I’m too tired to think straight any more. Going home.).
Johansson gestured with his hand, conveying as well as if he had spoken: (Think I’ll stay here for a while, chief. This gimmick is shaping up nicely.). Grunewald added a curt nod.
Corinth fumbled automatically for a cigarette, but his pocket was empty. Smokes just weren’t to be had these days. He hoped the world would get back on an operating basis soon, but it seemed less likely every day. What was happening outside the city? A few radio stations, professional and amateur, were maintaining a tenuous web of communications across western Europe, the Americas, and the Pacific, but the rest of the planet seemed to be swallowed by darkness—an occasional report of violence, like lightning in the night, and then nothing.
Mandelbaum had warned him yesterday to be on his guard. Missionaries of the Third Ba’al were definitely known to have entered the city despite all precautions and were making converts right and left. The new religion seemed to be wholly orgiastic, with a murderous hatred for logic and science and rationality of all kinds—you could expect trouble.
Corinth went down hallways that were tunnels of dusk. Electricity must be conserved; only a few power stations were still operating, manned and guarded by volunteers. Elevator service ended at sunset, and he walked down seven flights to ground level. Loneliness oppressed him, and when he saw a light in Helga’s office he paused, startled, and then knocked.
He opened the door. She sat behind a littered desk, writing up some kind of manifest. The symbols she used were strange to him, probably her own invention and more efficient than the conventional ones. She still looked as
severely handsome, but there was a deep weariness that paled her eyes.
“Hullo, Pete,” she said. The smile that twitched her mouth was tired, but it had warmth. “How’ve you been?”
Corinth spoke two words and made three gestures; she filled in his intention from logic and her knowledge of his old speech habits: (Oh—all right. But you—I thought you’d been co-opted by Felix to help whip his new government into shape.).
(I have,) she implied. (But I feel more at home here, and it’s just as good a place to do some of my work. Who’ve you got on my old job, by the way?)
(Billy Saunders—ten years of age, but a sharp kid. Maybe we should get a moron, though. The physical strain may be too much for a child.)