TXT

Catastrophes

By Alan Gibson,2014-04-13 06:20
11 views 0
Catastrophes

科幻之家首页|回目录|

    Catastrophes 1

    作者?Isaac Asimov 复制本章地址

    www.kehuanzhijia.comCATASTROPHES!edited byIsaac Asimov, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Charles G. WaughForeword Part I - Universe Destroyed The Last Trump Isaac Asimov No Other Gods Edward Wellen The Wine Has Been Left Open Too Long and the Memory Has Gone Flat Harlan Ellison Stars, Won't You Hide Me? Ben Bova Part II - Sun Destroyed Judgement Day Lloyd Biggie, Jr. The Custodian William Tenn Phoenix Clark Ashton Smith Run from the Fire Harry Harrison Part III - Earth Destroyed Requiem Edmond Hamilton At the Core Larry Niven A Pail of Air Fritz Leiber King of the Hill Chad Oliver Part IV - Humanity Destroyed The New Atlantis Ursula K. Le Guin History Lesson Arthur C. Clarke Seeds of the Dusk Raymond Z, Gallun Dark Benediction Walter M. Miller, Jr. Part V - Civilization Destroyed Last Night of Summer Alfred Coppel The Store of the Worlds Robert Sheckley How It Was When the Past Went Away Robert Silverberg Shark Ship C. M. Kornbluth AfterwordForeword It is quite customary for a piece of fiction to contain at least the threat of disaster. It is the threat, the menace, the apprehension of something one desperately does not want to take place that creates the suspense, and that rouses the interest of the reader. To be sure, the disaster may be a very slight and personal one--the youngster who may fail the test, or lose the game, or be turned down for a date--but it is there. To be equally sure, the story may be a lighthearted one with a happy end-ing, but the disaster, however slight, must be there in the mid-course for the ending to shine happily against. This is not to say that a story cannot be written without a disaster, but what a dull story it would be and how little worth the reading. And, as in so many other respects, science fiction manages to outshine other types of fiction. Where but in science fiction can real disasters be found? Take the most elaborate of realistic suspense and what can you have? The loss of a war? The enslavement of a nation? In science fiction, the destruction of civilization is the least one might expect as the threat of disaster, or its actual accomplishment, is represented to the reader. In this collection of twenty stories, we have four stories dealing with each of five different levels of disaster, organized according to a scheme I devised in my nonfiction discussion entitled A Choice of Catastrophes (Simon and Schuster, 1979; Fawcett Columbine, 1981), The movement is from the most all-encompassing catastrophes toward progressively narrower ones. If this sounds to you like a journey into anticlimax, you are wrong, for as the catastrophes become narrower, they also become more probable. In short, in this book you may be steadily decreasing the scope but you are as steadily increasing the danger. Why bother? Why scare yourself? For one thing, these are memorable stories you will enjoy and won't easily forget. For another, humanity does face catastrophes of various levels of scope and various gradations of likelihood, and if there is any chance at all of evading them or blunting them, that chance will be heightened if we know what the dangers may be and consider in advance how to prevent or ameliorate them. Staring at danger may not be pleasant--but closing your eyes will not make the danger go away, and with closed eyes you will surely be destroyed by it. ISAAC ASIMOV1UNIVERSE DESTROYED In A Choice of Catastrophes, "Catastrophes of

    the First Class" are those in which the whole Universe is destroyed. Actually, the possibility of such a catastrophe long antedates the imaginings of modern science fiction. In ancient times, it was usually taken for granted that the Universe would be destroyed someday (as it was created) by the Word of God, or by the decree of Fate.Even today there are many who assume that there will be a Day of Judgment and that it is even imminent. In every generation there are those who await it momentarily ("The Last Trump" by Isaac Asimov). And, of course, the end can come about through the action not of the Creator of Humanity, but of the Created of Humanity ("No Other Gods" by Edward Wellen). If we put mythology to one side and confine ourselves to the even mightier and more colorful conclusions of science, we do not have the crash of the Lord as He slams shut the Book of Life, but rather the long, long dwindle of sound ever, ever fainter as the Universe whispers dyingly to its death; as entropy increases, ever more slowly, to its maximum; as available energy dwindles to zero and with it all change, life, us ("The Wine Has Been Left Open Too Long and the Memory Has Gone Flat" by Harlan Ellison). Or else, there can be a revival. The expanding Universe can recontract, the unwinding rewind, the dying undie. That sounds good and hopeful but what the revival ends in is as surely, if much more gloriously, the death of all ("Stars, Won't You Hide Me?" by Ben Bova).The Last Trump ISAAC ASIMOV The' Archangel Gabriel was quite casual about the whole thing. Idly, he let the tip of one wing graze the planet Mars, which, being of mere matter, was unaffected by the contact. He said, "It's a settled matter, Etheriel. There's nothing to be done about it now. The Day of Resurrection is due." Etheriel, a very junior seraph who had been created not quite a thousand years earlier as men counted time, quivered so that distinct vortices appeared in the continuum. Ever since his creation, he had been in immediate charge of Earth and environs. As a job, it was a sinecure, a cubbyhole, a dead end, but through the centuries he had come to take a perverse pride in the world. "But you'll be disrupting my world without notice." "Not at all. Not at all. Certain passages occur in the Book of Daniel and in the Apocalypse of St. John which are clear enough." "They are? Having been copied from scribe to scribe? I wonder if two words in a row are left unchanged," "There are hints in the Rig-Veda, in the Confucian Analects--" "Which are the property of isolated cultural groups which exist as a thin aristocracy--" "The Gilgamesh Chronicle speaks out plainly." "Much of the Gilgamesh Chronicle was destroyed with the library of Ashurbanipal sixteen hundred years, Earth-style, before my creation." "There are certain features of the Great Pyramid and a pattern in the inlaid jewels of the Taj Mahal--" "Which are so subtle that no man has ever rightly interpreted them."Gabriel said wearily, "If you're going to object to everything, there's no use discussing the matter. In any case, you ought to know about it. In matters concerning Earth, you're omniscient," "Yes, if I choose to be. I've had much to concern me here and investigating the possibilities of Resurrection did not, I confess, occur to me." "Well, it should have. AH the papers involved are in the files of the Council of Ascendants, You could have availed yourself of them at any time." "I tell you all my time was needed here. You have no idea of the deadly efficiency of the Adversary on this planet. It took all my efforts to curb him, and even so-- "Why, yes"--Gabriel stroked a cotnet as it passed--"he does seem

    to have won his little victories, I note as I let the interlocking factual pattern of this miserable little world flow through me that this is one of those setups with matter-energy equivalence." "So it is," said Etheriel. "And they are playing with it." "I'm afraid so." "Then what better time for ending the matter?" "I'll be able to handle it, I assure you. Their nuclear bombs will not destroy them." "I wonder. Well, now, suppose you let me continue, Etheriel. The appointed moment approaches," The seraph said stubbornly, "I would like to see the documents in the case." "If you insist." The wording of an Act of Ascendancy appeared in glittering symbols against the deep black of the airless firmament. Etheriel read aloud: "It is hereby directed by order of Council that the Archangel Gabriel, Serial number etcetera, etcetera (well, that's you, at any rate), will approach Planet, Class A, number G753990, hereinafter known as Earth, and on January 1,1957, at 12:01 PM., using local time values--" He finished reading in gloomy silence. "Satisfied,?" "No, but I'm helpless," Gabriel smiled. A trumpet appeared in space, in shape like an earthly trumpet, but its burnished gold extended from Earth to sun. It was raised to Gabriel's glittering beautiful lips. "Can't you let me have a little time to take this up with the Council?" asked Etheriel desperately. "What good would it do you? The act is countersigned by the Chief, and you know that an act countersigned by the Chief is absolutely irrevocable. And now, if you don't mind, it is almost the stipulated second and I want to be done with this as I have other matters of much greater moment on my mind. Would you step out of my way a little? Thank you."Gabriel blew, and a clean, thin sound of perfect pitch and crystalline delicacy filled all the universe to the furthest star. As it sounded, there was a tiny moment of stasis as thin as the line separating past from future, and then the fabric of worlds collapsed upon itself and matter was gathered back into the primeval chaos from which it had once sprung at a word. The stars and nebulae were gone, and the cosmic dust, the sun, the planets, the moon; all, all, all except the Earth itself, which spun as before in a universe now completely empty. The Last Trump had sounded. R. E. Mann (known to all who knew him simply as R. E.) eased himself into the offices of the Billikan Bitsies factory and stared somberly at the tall man (gaunt but with a certain faded elegance about his neat gray mustache) who bent intently over a sheaf of papers on his desk. R. E. looked at his wristwatch, which still said 7:01, having ceased running at that time. It was Eastern standard time, of course; 12:01 P.M. Greenwich time. His dark brown eyes, staring sharply out over a pair of pronounced cheekbones, caught those of the other. For a moment, the tall man stared at him blankly. Then he said, "Can I do anything for you?" "Horatio J. Billikan, I presume? Owner of this place?" "Yes." "I'm R. E. Mann and I couldn't help but stop in when I finally found someone at work. Don't you know what today is?" "Today?" "It's Resurrection Day." "Oh, that! I know it. I heard the blast. Pit to wake the dead That's rather a good one, don't you think?" He chuck led for a moment, then went on. "It woke me at seven in the morning. I nudged my wife. She slept through it, of course. I always said she would. 'It's the Last Trump, dear,' I said. Hortense, that's my wife, said, 'All right,' and went back to sleep. I bathed, shaved, dressed and came to work." "But why?" "Why not?" "None of your workers have come in." "No, poor souls. They'll take a holiday just at first.

    You've got to expect that. After all, it isn't every day that the world comes to an end. Frankly, it's just as well. It gives me a chance to straighten out my personal correspondence without interruptions. Telephone hasn't rung once." He stood up and went to the window. "It's a great improvement. No blinding sun any more and the snow's gone. There's a pleasant light and a pleasant warmth. Very good arrangement-- But now, if you don't mind, I'm rather busy, so if you'll excuse me--" A great, hoarse voice interrupted with a, "Just a minute,Horatio," and a gentleman, looking remarkably like Billikan in a somewhat craggier way, followed his prominent nose into the office and struck an attitude of offended dignity which was scarcely spoiled by the fact that he was quite naked. "May I ask why you've shut down Bitsies?" B.illikan looked faint. "Good Heavens," he said, "it's Father. Wherever did you come from?" "From the graveyard," roared Billikan, Senior. "Where on Earth else? They're coming out of the ground there by the dozens. Every one of them naked. Women, too," Billikan cleared his throat. "I'll get you some clothes, Father. I'll bring them to you from home." "Never mind that. Business first. Business first." R. E. came out of his musing. "Is everyone coming out of their graves at the same time, sir?" He stared curiously at Billikan, Senior, as he spoke. The old man's appearance was one of rubust age. His cheeks were furrowed but glowed with health. His age, R. E. decided, was exactly what it was at the moment of his death, but his body was as it should have been at that age if it functioned ideally. Billikan, Senior, said, "No, sir, they are not. The newer graves are coming up first, Pottersby died five years before me and came up about five minutes after me. Seeing him made me decide to leave. I had had enough of him when... And that reminds me." He brought his fist down on the desk, a very solid fist. "There were no taxis, no busses. Telephones weren't working. I had to walk. I had to walk twenty miles." "Like that?" asked his son in a faint and appalled voice. Billikan, Senior, looked down upon his bare skin with casual approval. "It's warm. Almost everyone else is naked....Anyway, son, I'm not here to make small talk. Why is the factory shut down?" "It isn't shut down. It's a special occasion." "Special occasion, my foot. You call union headquarters and tell them Resurrection Day isn't in the contract. Every worker is being docked for every minute he's off the job." Billikan's lean face took on a stubborn look as he peered at his father. "I will not. Don't forget, now, you're no longer in charge of this plant. I am." "Oh, you are? By what right?" "By your will." "All right. Now here I am and I void my will." "You can't, Father. You're dead. You may not look dead, but I have witnesses. I have the doctor's certificate. I have receipted bills from the undertaker. I can get testimony from the pallbearers." Billikan, Senior, stared at his son, sat down, placed his arm over the back of the chair, crossed his legs and said, "If it comes to that, we're all dead, aren't we? The world's come to an end, hasn't it?" "But you've been declared legally dead and I haven't.""Oh, we'll change that, son. There are going to be more of us than of you and votes count." Billikan, Junior, tapped the desk firmly with the flat of his hand and flushed slightly. "Father, I hate to bring up this particular point, but you force me to. May I remind you that by now I am sure that Mother is sitting at, home waiting for you; that she probably had to walk the streets--uh--naked, too; and that she probably isn't in a good humor." Billikan, Senior, went ludicrously

    pale. "Good Heavens!" "And you know she always wanted you to retire." Billikan, Senior, came to a quick decision. "I'm not going home. Why, this is a nightmare. Aren't there any limits to this Resurrection business? It's--it's--it's sheer anarchy. There's such a thing as overdoing it. I'm just not going home." At which point, a somewhat rotund gentleman with a smooth, pink face and fluffy white sideburns (much like pic tures of Martin Van Buren) stepped in and said coldly, "Good day." "Father," said Billikan, Senior. "Grandfather," said Billikan, Junior. Billikan, Grandsenior, looked at Billikan, Junior, with disapproval. "If you are my grandson," he said, "you've aged considerably and the change has not improved you," Billikan, Junior, smiled with dyspeptic feebleness, made no answer. Billikan, Grandsenior, did not seem to require one. He said, "Now if you two will bring me up to date on the business, I will resume my managerial function" There were two simultaneous answers, and Billikan, Grandsenior's, floridity waxed dangerously as he beat the ground peremptorily with an imaginary cane and barked a retort. R. E. said, "Gentlemen." He raised his voice, "Gentlemen!" He shrieked at full lung-power, "GENTLEMEN!" Conversation snapped off sharply and all turned to look at him. R. E.'s angular face, his oddly attractive eyes, his sardonic mouth seemed suddenly to dominate the gathering. He said, "I don't understand this argument. What is it that you manufacture?" "Biteies," said Billikan, Junior. "Which, I take it, are a packaged cereal breakfast food--" 'Teeming with energy in every golden, crispy flake--" cried Billikan, Junior, "Covered with honey-sweet, crystalline sugar; a confection and a food--" growled Billikan, Senior. "To tempt the most jaded appetite," roared Billikan, Grandsenior. "Exactly," said R. E. "What appetite?" They stared stolidly at him. "I beg your pardon," said Billikan, Junior."Are any of you hungry?" asked R. E. "I'm not." "What is this fool maundering about?" demanded Billikan, Grandsenior, angrily. His invisible cane would have been prodding E. E. in the navel had it (the cane, not the navel) existed. S, E. said, "I'm trying to tell you that no one will ever eat again. It is the hereafter, and food is unnecessary," The expressions on the faces of the Billikans needed no interpretation. It was,obvious that they had tried their own appetites and found them wanting. Billikan, Junior, said ashenly, "Rained!" Billikan, Grandsenior, pounded the floor heavily and noiselessly with his imaginary cane. "This is confiscation of property without due process-of law. I'll sue. I'11 sue." "Quite unconstitutional," agreed Billikan, Senior. "If you can find anyone to sue, I wish you all good fortune," said R. E. agreeably. "And now if you'll excuse me I think I'll walk toward the graveyard." He put his hat on his head and walked out the door. Etheriel, his vortices quivering, stood before the glory of a six-winged cherub. The cherub said, "If I understand you, your particular universe has been dismantled." "Exactly." "Well, surely, now, you don't expect me to set it up again?" "I don't expect you to do anything," said Etheriel, "except to arrange an appointment for me with the Chief." The cherub gestured his respect instantly at hearing the word. Two wing-tips covered his feet, two his es and two his mouth. He restored himself

    to normal and said, "The Chief is quite busy. There are a myriad score of matters for him to decide." "Who denies that? I merely point out that if matters stand as they are now, there will have been a universe in which Satan will have won the final

    victory." "Satan?" "It's the Hebrew word for Adversary," said Etheriel impatiently. "I could say Ahriman, which is the Persian word. In any case, I mean the Adversary." The cherub said, "But what will an interview with the Chief accomplish? The document authorizing the Last Trump was countersigned by the Chief, and you know that it is irrevocable for that reason. The Chief would never limit his own omnipotence by canceling a word he had spoken in his official capacity." "Is that final? You will not arrange an appointment?" "I cannot." Etheriel said, "In that case, I shall seek out the Chief without one. I will invade the Primum Mobile, If it means my destruction, so be it." He gathered his energies-- The cherub murmured in horror, "Sacrilege!" and therewas a faint gathering of thunder as Etheriel sprang upward and was gone. R. E. Mann passed through the crowding streets and grew used to the sight of people bewildered, disbelieving, apathetic, in makeshift clothing or, usually, none at all. A girl, who looked about twelve, leaned over an iron gate, one foot on a crossbar, swinging it to and fro, and said as he passed, "Hello, mister." "Hello," said R. E. The girl was dressed. She was not one of the--uh--returnees. The girl said, "We got a new baby in our house. She's a sister I once had. Mommy is crying and they sent me here." R, E. said, "Well, well," passed through the gate and up the paved walk to the house, one with modest pretensions to middle-class gentility. He rang the bell, obtained no answer, opened the door and walked in. He followed the sound of sobbing and knocked at an inner door. A stout man of about fifty with little hair and a comfortable supply of cheek and chin looked out at him with mingled astonishment and resentment. "Who are you?" R. E. removed his hat. "I thought I might be able to help. Your little girl outside--" A woman looked up at him hopelessly from a chair by a double bed. Her hair was beginning to gray. Her face was puffed and unsightly with weeping and the veins stood out bluely on the back of her hands. A baby lay on the bed, plump and naked. It kicked its feet languidly and its sightless baby eyes turned aimlessly here and there. "This is my baby," said the woman. "She was born twentythree years ago in this house and she died when she was ten days old in this house, I wanted her back so much," "And now you have her," said R. E. "But it's too late," cried the woman vehemently. "I've had three other children. My oldest girl is married; my son is in the army. I'm too old to have a baby now. And even if--even if--" Her features worked in a heroic effort to keep back the tears and failed. Her husband said with flat tonelessness, "It's not a real baby. It doesn't cry. It doesn't soil itself. It won't take milk. What will we do? It'll never grow. It'll always be a baby." R. E. shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "I'm afraid I can do nothing to help." Quietly he left. Quietly he thought of the hospitals. Thousands of babies must be appearing at each one. Place them in racks, he thought, sardonically. Stack them like cord wood. They need no care. Their little bod iesare merely each the custodian of an indestructible spark of life. He passed two little boys of apparently equal chronological age, perhaps ten. Their voices were shrill. The body of oneglistened white in the sunless light so he was a returnee. The other was not. R. E. paused to listen. The bare one said, "I had scarlet fever." A spark of envy at the other's claim to notoriety seemed to enter the clothed one's voice. "Gee." "That's why I died." "Gee. Did they use pensillun or auromysun?" "What?" "They're medicines." "I never

    heard of them." "Boy, you never heard of much." "I know as much as you." "Yeah? Who's President of the United States?" "Warren Harding, that's who." "You're crazy. It's Eisenhower." "Who's he?" "Ever see television?" "What's that?" The clothed boy hooted earsplittingly. "It's something you turn on and see comedians, movies, cowboys, rocket rangers, anything you want." "Let's see it." There was a pause and the boy from the present said, "It ain't working." The other boy shrieked his scorn. "You mean it ain't never worked. You made it all up." R. E. shrugged and passed on. The crowds thinned as he left town and neared the cemetery. Those who were left were all walking into town, all were nude. A man stopped him; a cheerful man with pinkish skin and white hair who had the marks of pince-nez oh either side of the bridge of his nose, but no glasses to go with them. "Greetings, friend." "Hello," said R. E. "You're the first man with clothing that I've seen. You were alive when the trumpet blew, I suppose." "Yes, I was." "Well, isn't this great? Isn't this joyous and delightful? Come rejoice with me." "You like this, do you?" said R. E. "Like it? A pure and radiant joy fills me. We are surrounded by the light of the first day; the light that glowed softly and serenely before sun, moon and stars were made. (You know your Genesis, of course.) There is the comfortable warmth that must have been one of the highest blisses of Eden; not enervating heat or assaulting cold. Men and women walk the streets unclothed and are not ashamed. All is well, my friend, all is well." R. E. said, "Well, it's a fact that I haven't seemed to mind the feminine display all about.""Natxirally not," said the other. "Lust and sin as we remember it in our earthly existence no longer exist. Let me introduce myself, friend, as I was in earthly times. My name on Earth was Winthrop Hester. I was born in 1812 and died in 1884 as we counted time then. Through the last forty years of my life I labored to bring my little flock to the Kingdom and I go now to count the ones I have won." R. E. regarded the ex-minister solemnly. "Surely there has been no Judgment yet." "Why not? The Lord sees within a man and in the same instant that all things of the world ceased, all men were judged and we are the saved." "There must be a great many saved." "On the contrary, my son, those saved are but as a remnant." "A pretty large remnant. As near as I can make out, everyone's coming back to life. I've seen some pretty unsavory characters back in town as alive as you are." "Last-minute repentance--" "I never repented." "Of what, my son?" "Of the fact that I never attended church." Winthrop Hester stepped back hastily. "Were you ever baptized?" "Not to my knowledge." Winthrop Hester trembled, "Surely you believed in God?" "Well," said R. E., "I believed a lot of things about Him that would probably startle you." Winthrop Hester turned and hurried off in great agitation. In what remained of his walk to the cemetery (R, E. had no way of estimating time, nor did it occur to him to try) no one else stopped him. He found the cemetery itself all but empty, its trees and grass gone (it occurred to him that there was nothing green in the world; the ground everywhere was a hard, featureless, grainless gray; the sky a luminous white), but its headstones still standing. On one of these sat a lean and furrowed man with long, black hair on his head and a mat of it, shorter, though more impressive, on his chest and upper arms. He called out in a deep voice, "Hey, there, you!" R. E. sat down on a neighboring headstone, "Hello." Black-hair said, "Your clothes don't look right. What year was it when it happened?" "1957."

    "I died in 1807. Funny! I expected to be one pretty hot boy right about now, with the 'tarnal flames shooting up my innards." "Aren't you coming along to town?" asked R. E. "My name's Zeb," said the ancient. 'That's short for Zebulon, but Zeb's good enough. What's the town like? Changed some, I reckon?""It's got nearly a hundred thousand people in it." Zeb's mouth yawned somewhat. "Go on. Might nigh bigger'n Philadelphia-- You're making fun." "Philadelphia's got--" R. E. paused. Stating the figure would do him no good. Instead, he said, "The town's grown in a hundred fifty years, you know." "Country, too?" "Forty-eight states," said R. E. "All the way to the Pacific." "No!" Zeb slapped his thigh in delight and then winced at the unexpected absence of rough homespun to take up the worst of the blow. "I'd head out west if I wasn't needed here. Yes, sir." His face grew lowering and his thin lips took on a definite grimness. "I'll stay right here, where I'm needed." "Why are you needed?" The explanation came out briefly, bitten off hard. "Injuns!" "Indians?" "Millions of 'em. First the tribes we fought and licked and then tribes who ain't never seen a white man. They'll all come back to life. I'll need my old buddies. You city fellers ain't no good at it-- Ever seen an Injun?" R. E. said, "Not around here lately, no." Zeb looked his contempt, and tried to spit to one side but found no saliva for the purpose. He said, "You better git back to the city, then. After a while, it ain't going to be safe nohow round here. Wish I had my musket." R. E. rose, thought a moment, shrugged and faced back to the city. The headstone he had been sitting upon collapsed as he rose, falling into a powder of gray stone that melted into the featureless ground. He looked about. Most of the headstones were gone. The rest would not last long. Only the one under Zeb still looked firm and strong, R. E. began the walk back. Zeb did not turn to look at him. He remained waiting quietly and calmly--for Indians. Etheriel plunged through the heavens in reckless haste. The eyes of the Ascendants were on him, he knew. Prom lateborn seraph, through cherubs and angels, to the highest archangel, they must be watching. Already he was higher than any Ascendant, uninvited, had ever been before and he waited for the quiver of the Word that would reduce his vortices to non-existence. But he did not falter. Through non-space and non-time, he plunged toward union with the Primum Mobile; the seat that encompassed all that Is, Was, Would Be, Had Been, Could Be and Might Be. And as he thought that, he burst through and was part of it, his being expanding so that momentarily he, too, was part of the All. But then it was mercifully veiled from his senses, and the Chief was a still, small voice within him, yet all the more impressive in its infinity for all that. "My son," the voice said, "I know why you have come." "Then help me, if that be your will.""By my own will," said the Chief, "an act of mine is ir revocable. All your mankind, my son, yearned for life. All feared death. All evolved thoughts and dreams of life unend ing. No two groups of men; no two single men; evolved the same afterlife, but all wished life. I was petitioned that I might grant the common denominator of all these wishes--life unending, I did so." "No servant of yours made that request," "The Adversary did, my son." Etheriel trailed his feeble glory in dejection and said in a low voice, "I am dust in your sight and unworthy to be in your presence, yet I must ask a question. Is then the Adversary your servant also?" "Without him I can have no other, said the Chief, Tor what then is Good but the eternal

    fight against Evil?" And in that fight, thought Etheriel, I have lost. R. E. paused in sight of town. The buildings were crumbling. Those that were made of wood were already heaps of rubble. R. E. walked to the nearest such heap and found the wooden splinters powdery and dry. He penetrated deeper into town and found the brick buildings still standing, but there was an ominous roundness to the edges of the bricks, a threatening flakiness. "They won't last long," said a deep voice, "but there is this consolation, if consolation it be; their collapse can kill no one." R. E. looked up in surprise and found himself face to face with a cadaverous Don Quixote of a man, lantern-jawed, sunken-cheeked. His eyes were sad and his brown hair was lank and straight. His clothes hung loosely and skin showed clearly through various rents. "My name," said the man, "is Richard Levine. I was a professor of history once--before this happened," "You're wearing clothes," said R. E. "You're not one of those resurrected." "No, but that mark of distinction is vanishing. Clothes are going." R. E. looked at the throngs that drifted past them, moving slowly and aimlessly like motes in a sunbeam, Vanishingly few wore clothes. He looked down at himself and noticed for the first time that the seam down the length of each trouser leg had parted. He pinched the fabric of his jacket between thumb and forefinger and the wool parted and came away easily. "I guess you're right," said R. E. "If you'll notice," went on Levine, "Mellon's Hill is flattening out." R. E. turned to the north where ordinarily the mansions of the aristocracy (such aristocracy as there was in town) studded the slopes of Mellon's Hill, and found the horizon nearly flat. Levine said, "Eventually, there'll be nothing but flatness,featurelessness, nothingness--and us." "And Indians," said R. E. "There's a man outside of town waiting for Indians and wishing he had a musket." "I imagine," said Levine, "the Indians will give no trouble. There is no pleasure in fighting an enemy that cannot be killed or hurt. And even if that were not so, the lust for battle would be gone, as are all lusts." "Are you sure?" "I am positive. Before all this happened, although you may not think it to look at me, I derived much harmless pleasure in a consideration of the female figure. Now, with the unexampled opportunities at my disposal, I find myself irritatingly uninterested No, that is wrong. I am not even irritated at my disinterest." R. E. looked up briefly at the passers-by. "I see what you mean." "The coming of Indians here," said Levine, "is nothing compared with the situation in the Old World. Early during the Resurrection, Hitler and his Wehrmacht must have come back to life and must now be facing and intermingled with Stalin and the Red Army all the way from Berlin to Stalingrad. To complicate the situation, the Kaisers and Czars will arrive. The men at Verdun and the Somme are back in the old battlegrounds. Napoleon and his marshals are scattered over western Europe. And Mohammed must be back to see what following ages have made of Islam, while the Saints and Apostles consider the paths of Christianity. And even the Mongols, poor things, the Khans from Temujin to Aurangzeb, must be wandering the steppes helplessly, longing for their horses," "As a professor of history," said R. E., "you must long to be there and observe." "How could I be there? Every man's position on Earth is restricted to the distance he can walk. There are no machines of any kind, and, as I have just mentioned, no horses. And what would I find in Europe anyway? Apathy, I think! As here." A soft

    plopping sound caused R. E. to turn around. The wing of a neighboring brick building had collapsed in dust. Portions of bricks lay on either side of him. Some must have hurtled through him without his being aware of it. He looked about. The heaps of rubble were less numerous. Those that remained, were smaller in size. He said, "I met a man who thought we had all been judged and are in Heaven," "Judged?" said Levine. "Why, yes, I imagine we are. We face eternity now. We have no universe left, no outside phenomena, no emotions, no passions. Nothing but ourselves and thought. We face an eternity of introspection, when" all through history we have never known-what to do with ourselves on a rainy Sunday." "You sound as though the situation bothers you.'v"It does more than that. The Dantean conceptions of Inferno were childish and unworthy of the Divine imagination: fire and torture. Boredom is much more subtle. The inner torture of a mind unable to escape itself in any way, condemned to fester in its own exuding mental pus for all time, is much more fitting. Oh, yes, my friend, we have been judged, and condemned, too, and this is not Heaven, but hell." And Levine rose with shoulders drooping dejectedly, and walked away. R. E. gazed thoughtfully about and nodded his head. He was satisfied. The self-admission of failure lasted but an instant in Etheriel, and then, quite suddenly, he lifted his being as brightly and highly as he dared in the presence of the Chief and his glory was a tiny dot of light in the infinite Primum Mobile. "If it be your will, then," he said. "I do not ask you to defeat your will but to fulfill it." "In what way, my son?" "The document, approved by the Council of Ascendants and signed by yourself, authorizes the Day of Resurrection at a specific time of a specific day of the year 1957 as Earthmen count time." "So it did." "But the year 1957 is unqualified. What then is 1957? To the dominant culture on Earth the year was A D. 1957. That is true. Yet from the time you breathed existence into Earth and its universe there have passed 5,960 years. Based on the internal evidence you created within that universe, nearly four billion years have passed. Is the year, unqualified, then 1957, 5960, or 4000000000? "Nor is that all," Etheriel went on. "The year A D 1957 is the year 7464 of the Byzantine era, 5716 by the Jewish calendar. It is 2708 A.U.C, that is, the 2,708th year since the founding of Rome, if we adopt the Roman calendar. It is the year 1375 in the Mohammedan calendar, and the hundred eightieth year of the independence of the United States. "Humbly I ask then if it does not seem to you that a year referred to as 1957 alone and without qualification has no meaning." The Chief's still small voice said, "I have always known this, my son; it was you who had to learn." "Then," said Etheriel, quivering luminously with joy, "let the very letter of your will be fulfilled and let the Day of Resurrection fall in 1957, but only when all the inhabitants of Earth unanimously agree that a certain year shall be numbered 1957 and none other." "So let it be," said the Chief, and this Word re-created Earth and all it contained, together with the sun and moon and ail the hosts of Heaven. It was 7 A M, on January 1,1957, when R, E, Mann awoke with a start. The very beginnings of a melodious note thatought to have filled all the universe had sounded and yet had not sounded, For a moment, he cocked his head as though to allow understanding to flow in, and then a trifle of rage crossed his face to vanish again. It was but another battle. He sat down at his desk to compose the next plan of action. People already spoke of calendar

Report this document

For any questions or suggestions please email
cust-service@docsford.com