AUTHOR OF ‘THE REVOLT OF THE PEDESTRIANS,’ ‘THE METAL DOOM,’ ETC.
Matters were going from bad to worse on earth. Even the most generous optimist secretly felt that the stage of mechanical labor had advanced to the point at which it might easily threaten the security, even the existence of the human race.
The robot had been followed by the super automaton. Machinery could now be so delicately attuned to the nervous system of mankind that all that was necessary was to develop the power of physic control, buy a few machines and let them work for their master. Naturally, the man who could buy the most machines and learn how to govern them was able to subdue the poor man who could only boast of a few imperfect automatons of early vintage.
At first only the visionaries thought of the possibility of a time’s arriving when the automatons would function without the aid of a guiding human intelligence. But that time came. Almost before the human race were aware of their danger they were placed in a position of it’s being hard to tell whether the intelligence of man was directing the activities of the machine or the intelligence of the machine was gradually enslaving the remnant of the human species.
James Tarvish, old, shrewd, wealthy, realized before most of the world’s rich men what might happen on the earth. Having neither wife nor child, he had made money his God, and machinery his hobby. It was his cash which made the dream of interplanetary travel become a living reality. Though not an inventor himself, he was able to tell the men under his rule what to invent. Silently, vigorously, relentlessly he fought the battle against the automatons, but finally realized the fact that it might easily become a hopeless fight. Five years before the two great forces came into open conflict he had made up his mind what to do. Once he decided he worked with startling rapidity.
He called in his inventors and scientists from all parts of the world. When he talked to them his words snapped, his sentences crackled.
“Draw plans for two air-ships that will fit together to form one interplanetary ship. I want them so designed that the two can be used independently or, when joined in the middle, can be used as one. Double everything. Make it powerful, swift, the finest ship ever made. In the one ship I want a giant refrigerator built. In fact, I want the entire half to be a refrigerator. Think of the greatest heat possible, the most terrible heat known to our intelligence and then plan a refrigerating plant that will enable a human being to live inside no matter what the heat is outside, and keep on living there, year after year. You have broken up the atom to obtain energy. Learn how to use that energy to produce cold. Stock both ends of the ship with everything necessary to keep several people alive for many years; not only alive, but happy and busy and interested in life.
“I am not taking anything for impossible. I know what I want and I want it right and as fast as possible. Spare no expense. Put yourself on double hours of labor and triple units of salary. Get busy and stay busy. I am going to be on the job day and night. If you are not sure of what I want, ask me. If you are not sure you can do what I want get out and give a better man the job.”
“Where are you going in this ship, Mr. Tarvish?” asked one of the best minds in the gathering. “We ought to know that in order to design it properly.”
“You build it the way I say,” was the sharp answer, “and it will go where it is intended to go. If I had wanted to tell you my plans I would have done so at once.”
The rocket-ship was built. As a mechanical triumph it was a success. As a novelty in interplanetary travel it was filled with startling new innovations.
Tarvish had used the very mechanical perfection that he was afraid of to devise a space home that was in everyway foolproof. Anyone knowing enough to read and press buttons could guide the machine through the void of time and space and live in it for the full span of individual existence.
In two years it was built.
Known among the inventors as Fool’s Folly and called by the fictionists the Ark of Space, it contained something that was more remarkable than any part of its automatic machinery. It held an idea. James Tarvish, old, dour, canny, tightfisted, had an idea and it was a new one.
For the next three months he hunted for a man.
He wanted a man who was brave, intellectual, clean, and in every way representative of the best in the cultural achievements of the age. He at last found what he wanted. The man’s name was Henry Cecil.
“I have a job for you, Mr. Cecil,” whispered Tarvish.
“I accept it,” was the sharp reply.
“But you don’t know what it is?”
“And I do not care, as long as I can support myself.”
“You can do that if you take this job. I have built a space ship. I want you to be the entire crew. I am sending you away from the world – forever.”
“How about my pay?”
“I will have a number of envelopes filled, each with the salary for one month. On the first of each month you can open an envelope.”
“That’s satisfactory. On a trip of that kind I ought to be able to save a lot.”
“A lot! Man! You can save it all. I wish I had had a chance like that when I was a lad. Here is the idea. The world is going to smash. I do not mean physically, but socially. The automatons are gaining in power. The day will come when they will either kill or enslave what is left of the human race. I want to save what is best of it so I am sending out this space-ship. It is the Ark that will save mankind from the second deluge, the flood of mechanical perfection.”
“And I am going to send you to a place that is safe. An ordinary space-ship cannot follow you. You will be safe.”
“All by myself?”
“Practically. Perhaps a pet for you to talk to.”
“It is ideal!” cried the young man eagerly. “Wonderful! In fact, is just what I have been hunting for. No women?”
The old man frowned.
“Women! And me a bachelor all my life? I said I wanted to save the best of our culture, not the dregs.”
“You don’t like women?”
“No, when I was young one woman called me a dried-out orange, a book that had been read, a worn-out shoe. She intimated that the masculine sex was the inferior one. I have not liked women since that day. And you!”
“That is one reason I want to take this job. There is a woman after me. She thinks that she would like to marry me. So long as I am on this earth I cannot escape her. So, I am leaving.”
“Young? Pretty? Healthy? Intelligent?”
“Sure. All of that, but she treats me as if I were a child. She wants to make plans for me, buy my neckties, and all that sort of thing.”
“You poor lad. Tell me her name and address and I will see that you are protected. What kind of a pet will be your choice?”
“An English bull dog. I will get a puppy.”
“Better get one that is housebroke. There will be no pleasant fields where you are going.”
“Just where is my future home?”
“Mercury. It is the only place that the automatons will not think of conquering.”
“But it is hot there. Near the sun and all that sort of thing.”
“Sure it is hot, but you will be living in a refrigerator, with goldfish in the aquarium and canaries in the bird cage. So long as you stay in the refrigerator, you will be safe. A second outside and you will be a cinder.”
“Fine! Even if the temperature is high it will not be as hot as a life with Ruth Fanning. That is the girl’s name. I will write her address for you. When do I go?”
“In a week. I may not be there to see you off, but all you have to do is to follow your written orders. The salary is a hundred a month for your life, payable on the first of each month.”
The young man seized the old man’s hand. His appreciation was pathetic, as he exclaimed,
“I never shall be able to thank you for this. If the offer had not come, that girl would have caught me in another month. Now I shall go out and hunt up that bulldog. What did you say the object of the trip was?”
“To save humanity. To preserve the human race.”
“That is some job for the bulldog and me, but we shall do our best. I am going to show you that you have not made a mistake in selecting me. Just why did you do it?”
“Because I found out that you are a misogynist.”
“I see. And you will take care of Ruth?”
“You just leave that to me.”
* * * * *
Most of the following week was devoted to the mechanical education of Henry Cecil. Hour after hour he was taught how to push the various buttons and find his way through space. He was shown all the parts of the super-refrigeration machinery. He was not an engineer; in fact, he was simply an author, but at the end of the week he felt that he would be able to do everything that was necessary on the trip, which was to occupy his lifetime.
The day came! The hour! The minute! He said goodbye to the men who had tutored him and, as the bulldog barked, he shut and fastened the door, and pushed the various buttons that started the giant ship on its journey to one of the infernos of the universe.
Mercury! The planet nearest the sun. The planet of mystery, of terrible heat, the place human life is supposed to be impossible. The place even a determined young lady could not follow a man she coveted.
The bulldog, slightly uneasy at what he could not understand, whined at Cecil’s feet. He looked out of a window, and through the heavy insulated glass and peered at the disappearing earth. The man bent over and pulled the dog’s ears.
“Alone at last, old man,” he cried. “Just you and me, and the world of woman left behind. Suppose we go into the library?”
In that room, above the murmur of the machinery, he heard a rhythmic snore. He walked rapidly to the chair. The old man woke.
“Why, Mr. Tarvish!” cried Cecil. “What are you doing there in that chair?”
“I must have overslept,” chuckled the gray-headed man. “Came in here at the last moment to look around and got sleepy. Well, since I am paying the cost for the saving of the human race, I might as well witness the details of the salvaging. It will be a grand adventure, Henry, and I doubt not we shall never regret it. I have a surprise for you. When I came on the ship my dog followed me. As fine an English bull as you ever saw, and a bitch.”
“Sure! Dogs die. They wither and grow old and die. We will live on and what would life be without a dog? Why, man, the human race has always had dogs; so , when you told me what kind of a dog you were going to take, I went and got a mate for him.”
“And you intended to make the trip with me all the time?”
“A suspicious person might think so.”
Just then the door opened. A young woman walked in. She was young and beautiful and she looked as though she might be intellectual. She wore a pretty little apron and she smiled as she asked,
“What time shall you men want supper?”
“At five, my dear, and I like my toast a trifle hard, with orange marmalade and tea.”
As the woman left the room, Cecil turned on the old man.
“So, you did that to me? After all your fine words about being a woman hater, and selecting me because you knew I was a misogynist, and all that sort of thing, you go and take her with us.”
“Now don’t take it too hard,” advised Tarvish.
“It really was on account of the dogs I did it,” he added.
“What had the dogs to dogs to do with your allowing Ruth to come?”
“T’was like this. There will be little puppies, Henry, and you know what a little pup is like. One of the things it likes to do more than anything else is to play with a baby. Now, we cannot be cruel to the little dog and deprive it of its happiness.”
“How about me? Are you comparing my happiness to that of a dog?”
“Not exactly; but look here. You are on a salary. One hundred a week for the rest of your life. You are hired to save humanity. That is your job, and how can you save it without a woman?”
“I do not want the job. Not if it means what it seems to mean.”
The old scientist shook his head,
“I do not know what you are talking about. I thought I was doing you a favor. It seemed to me that a lifetime in a refrigerator would be tiresome, and you would tire of playing cribbage with me. Besides, there is the matter of toast. I like it just a certain way, and if it is any other way the meal is spoiled. Ruth knows how to toast it so it is just right. She has made me toast at irregular intervals for years. You will be surprised to learn that she is my favorite niece. Another thing; the trip was her idea. She suggested it. My first thought was that she and I would make the trip by ourselves, but she felt that you needed a change; that you were too closely confined at your job. So, I had you come along to please her. It seems to me that the more I try to help people the more I am misunderstood.”
“I’ll be damned!” exclaimed Cecil.
“You probably will unless you make an effort to be nice to Ruth. She said your excuse for not marrying her was the lack of a sufficient income and enough leisure. You have both now. Suppose we have supper.”
* * * * *
Hours passed and days. Weeks folded up their tired frames and went to sleep in the cemetery of time. The old man spent more and more time in the library, usually with one or both bulldogs. Cecil learned to be nice to Ruth. They found that, given leisure and an adequate income, they had a number of things in common.
At last they reached Mercury and landed on its superheated surface. In every way the refrigerating mechanicism worked as it was supposed to work. Life in the space ship was pleasant, placid and peaceful. The bullpups were growing up. Ruth and Cecil were growing up. The old man laughed more and more to himself.
Over the space radio they received news from the earth. It was not at all pleasant and confirmed Travish’s worst anticipations. The automatons were winning the struggle for supremacy. Unless something happened the human race would be enslaved and then destroyed.
Tarvish laughed over these messages and commented,
“At least, we have made Mercury safe for humanity.”
“And for the race of bulldogs,” added Ruth, running into the room. “Our population is increased by four of the finest little pups you ever saw.” She rushed out as fast as she had rushed in.
“Poor little doggies!” sighed Tarvish, looking at the young man out of one corner of his eye. “No babies for them to play with.”
“Ruth is looking after that,” replied Cecil rather sadly.
“She is a great girl,” purred the old man. “Wait a minute, are you two married?”
“Yes. The night before I left the earth I consented to a formal marriage. I had not told her of my plans to take this trip and spend the rest of my life away from earth, so, just to please her, I let her have her way and we were married. I said goodbye to her at the church, never expecting to see her again, and all the time she knew she was going to make the space trip with me. I do not believe I ever will trust a woman again. It has been a wonderful lesson to me.”
“How do you like her cooking?”
Cecil brightened up.
“Keep your clothes in order.”
Cecil beamed. The old man smiled as he whispered,
“Let’s play a game of cribbage, you confirmed misogynist.”
* * * * *
A month later the little doggies had two babies to play with, twins, a boy and a girl. It began to look as though a start was made toward the saving of humanity.
And then the mysterious message came to them.
For three days all earth messages over the super radio were blocked. Evidently some supreme power was preventing all radio waves in order to clear the ether for its own purposes. Then the message came over and over again as though in fear that if only sent one time or a dozen times it would be lost.
People of Mercury: Construct a space ship in accord with our instructions which will follow and send a representative to the crater Copernicus of the satellite of the third planet.
Tarvish thought it over from every possible viewpoint. At last he called Henry Cecil into the library and told him to shut the door.
“What do you think about it, Henry?” he asked.
“Ruth says that Henry, Jr., gained a half pound last week, but cries a good deal. Little Angelica laughs a goo-goo laugh, but does not grow as fast as her brother.”
The old man looked disgusted.
“Being a father ruined you as a general conversationalist. All you can talk about is babies, babies, babies. Henry, Jr., is probably crying because he has found out that he is a male, and Angelica say goo-goo because she belongs to the superior sex. What I want to know is your opinion of the message we have been receiving.”
“Oh! That? What I do not understand is how they knew we came to Mercury?”
“They don’t know. They just hoped there was some form of life on Mercury and wanted to communicate with it. But why?”
“Perhaps they are having an interplanetary Rotarian Meeting of some sort and want us to send representatives?”
“That is a silly thought, Henry, but there may be something to it. They may be sending the same message to every planet, and the message we received is the same the people received on earth. It may be a grand hoax and then again it may be something very vital, something so great in its scope that even a limited comprehension of it is impossible. But I have made up my mind as to what to do. I am going to separate the two parts of our ship, leave you and Ruth and the babies here with some of the dogs and I am going to take the other half of the ship and go to the Moon and find out what it all means.”
“You are going to do nothing of the kind!” declared a very convincing and determined voice.
“Ruth Cecil! Do you mean to tell me you have been listening?”
“How could I help it?” replied the young mother. “I come in here to ask you for advice in regard to the children and find you making plans to go off and leave us here. I am not going to let you!”
“You better let us settle this, Ruth,” urged the old man.
“Certainly; he knows best,” added Cecil. “It is no trip for babies to make.”
“Have it your own way,” replied the defeated girl. “What do you want for supper?”
* * * * *
That night Tarvish dreamed he was floating through space. There was a slight sense of nausea, a deeper sense of impending danger. The room seemed chilled. He awoke, shivered, felt the unusual vibration of some powerful machinery. Startled, he jumped out of bed, pulled on a dressing robe and ran into the adjoining bedroom. Cecil was in bed, still asleep, but sneezing. The babies were well covered, as were the dogs. Ruth was missing.
“Where’s Ruth?” asked Tarvish, shaking Cecil by the shoulder.
The young man awoke, looked around, collected himself and gasped,
They ran through the half of the ship which had served them for a home on Mercury. The woman was not to be found. Looking out the windows, they learned part of the truth. The ship had left Mercury and the hot planet was already receding. An open door told the rest of the tale.
Startled beyond words, they ran into the other end of the space ship and found Ruth in the control room, busily engaged in pressing buttons and studying a map of the universe.
She was the only calm one of the three.
“What are you doing, Ruth?” demanded the old man.
“I have started this family to the moon.”
“But who said you should?” asked the husband.
“I said so, silly boy. Do you think we were going to stay in that dull inferno and let Uncle make the trip by himself? Once he was gone, what was to happen to us? And our children? All well enough to talk about saving Mercury for humanity, but we brought children into the world, and, if we stay on Mercury whom would they marry? And where would they go to school? I want them to have a little social life. And then we have to consider their collegiate education. And how about the dogs? Two of the little pups are females. They ought to have their chance. And then there are other things. Who would make Uncle’s toast for him if I did not stay with him? And I am out of the yellow floss for my hooked rug and cannot do a thing on it till I get some more, and you need some new stockings, and my watch does not keep time, and next year is the fifth reunion of my class and all of the Sorority will be back and they will expect me there. I am the Grand Historian. So, we are all going to the moon, and after that we are going back to New York and do some shopping, and I wish you would find out which button to press to turn on the heat, because now that we are away from Mercury we have nothing to neutralize the cold of the refrigerating system; and if you men feel the way I do, you are not at all comfortable. I covered the babies up before I left them, but I suppose they are uncovered by this time; so, I am going back to look after them and leave you men with the machinery. I set the course for the moon, but just at this minute I feel that perhaps I looked on the wrong page and we are now heading for Mars instead. You see, they both start with M, and it is confusing. Goodnight. See you at breakfast.”
“Wonderful girl!” sighed the old man. “College graduate.”
“She is wonderful,” agreed the young man. “At times when I am with her I feel like killing her, yet, when I am away from her for just a few minutes I feel so lonely I know I could not live without her. Did you ever feel that way about a woman?”
The old man did not answer the question. Cecil continued,
“Did you listen to her stream of thought? Was it logical? Was it connected? Was there any sense to it?”
“Women don’t think as men do,” sighed Tarvish.
“I wonder if they think at all!”
The correct adjustments were made to the machinery. Gradually the ship grew more comfortable. Looking out through the windows, the two men saw Mercury, now simply a pin point of super-heated metal. One of the bulldogs ran in, sat down at the old man’s feet, and started to lick his hand. Far in the distance they heard the laugh of a little baby.
“We are going to the moon,” said the old man, “for new adventures, but it is nice to think that no matter what happens to us we are going as a family, all of us, even the little doggies.”
Ruth called in through the door.
“What do you men want for breakfast?”
The ship sped speedily spaceward.