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MILES J. BREUER

MECHANOCRACY

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First published in Amazing Stories, April 1932

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-03-29
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Amazing Stories, April 1932, with "Mechanocracy"



ALTHOUGH marvellous strides have been made within the last fifty years in the field of mechanical invention, we must admit that we are merely at the brink of the Machine Age. What the future holds for us, nobody can tell definitely or surely, but some of those psychologists and scientists who let their imaginations roam into the possible future see things—remarkable things—to which they react with much misgiving. Machinery that standardizes production may, ib some way extend itself too far in standardizing life. It is a problem worth considering now—whether a muddling government that still permits initiative and self-reliance is not preferable to a perfectly standardized machine government. Dr. Breuer sees this side of the problem clearly and gives a most vivid picture of such a possible future.




Illustration

Again there were no people. No bawling speakers.
No gongs. Only the open mouths of pneumatic tubes,
and endless rows of them, each marked with its own destination.



CHAPTER I.

"QUENTIN SMITH LAKEMAN, the Government regrets your personal feelings and sympathizes with your relatives, but finds it necessary to condemn you at once to euthanasia."

As the mechanical voice that came from the orifice of the speaker ceased, Quentin Smith Lakeman turned pale and an icy pang shot through him. Through the dazzling lights that danced in his brain, he could see his three companions standing there gasping as a result of the sudden, crushing sentence.

He had expected some kind of a reward for his year of hard work, danger, and hardship spent in the service of the Government. Not that he expected machinery to have any gratitude; but above all, the machine is logical and just, and there were rules for rewarding special effort such as his.

"Democratia must be promptly and completely destroyed," the metallic voice of the speaker continued. "From your report of your investigations in that country, it is clear that its people will never consent to standardize themselves, and that they therefore constitute a menace to our standardized World Government."

Quentin—to call him by his "intimate" name, for in the twenty-sixth century everyone had an intimate name, a family name, and a public name—was flung down and crushed again by the announcement of the fate of that gallant country in which he had just spent a year. It seemed that his heart would stop beating then and there, for Democratia held Martha, who in that one short year had become more precious than all else in the world. He looked beside him at Jack, her stalwart eighteen-year- old brother, who had journeyed back with him as a guest to Washington, the Capital of the World.

"The Government appreciates the very efficient efforts of Quentin Smith Lakeman," the voice went on. Quentin knew it for the empty formula that the machine adopted in order to appeal to the emotions of human beings with whom it dealt. "It understands that this decision is emotionally difficult for living beings to bear. But, you have spent months in Democratia, and acquired a considerable tinge of individualistic ideas and customs. It would be dangerous to our institutions to turn you loose among the people now. And, as Democratia will soon cease to exist, prompt euthanasia is the only solution."

Utter silence followed. Even the faint crackling of the speaker ceased, showing that the connection was off. Quentin turned to Jack, whose burly form towered above the rest of them, and whose countenance showed a bewildered inability to grasp what it all meant.

Just then the door opened and a police captain came in, followed by a squad of men in blue uniform. Quentin recognized the captain as Guy Sherman Sentier, an old and close friend. Sentier stopped short and turned pale.

"You?" he gasped as he saw Quentin. "My orders are to take four people out of this office to the Euthanasia Chambers! What have you done?"

"Nothing!" said Quentin, calm by this time. "Go ahead. It's your duty. All I've done was to do mine."

"Terribly sorry," said Sentier faintly. He motioned to his men, and turned his head away.

The policemen came up, one of them grasping Jack by the arm. Jack whirled around and knocked the fellow across the room as easily as shaking off a rat. Then he leaped away from the group that had come in through an outer door, and in a moment had disappeared through a door leading into the interior of the building. The clatter of his swift footsteps died rapidly away into the muffled distance. For a moment the policemen stood aghast. They did not know quite how to behave, for never in their experience had a prisoner made so bold as to try to escape. With the world rigidly standardized and moving as one unit, what hope could there be of escape?

At a shout from the captain, they became active and scattered through doors and windows in pursuit, each with his thin black rod. The three remaining captives were handcuffed and a man left in charge.

Quentin waited in patient resignation, for he knew it could not last long. Can one escape the lion in his own den? The very walls of the building would combine to hunt down the fugitive.

But the boy must have been swift and clever. Minutes lengthened into an hour; the guard stood stiff, mechanical, embarrassed. The huge building was silent save for vague mechanical sounds. Then a faint shout came across a courtyard through a window, and Quentin could see Jack climbing down a drain pipe from the roof. Two figures appeared on the roof above him, and others ran out of a door nearby and waited for him on the ground. As Jack came down within reach, one of the guards touched him with the end of his slender, three-foot rod. Jack dropped to the ground, limp and paralyzed. In a few moments he was wheeled into the office on a small cart, one of the policemen holding the rod in contact with Jack's arm. The boy lay helpless, his eyes gazing mute inquiry into Quentin's.

"No use, Jack," Quentin said to him. "You're among civilized people now, you know. You're no good against police equipment. Promise them you'll go quietly and they'll let you up."

The policeman lifted the rod an instant, giving Jack power to nod his head in promise. Thereupon the policeman put his rod away, and Jack stood up and looked about abashed. As the police led their captives out, Sentier called after Quentin:

"You don't hold this against me personally? May I visit you?"

"Come. I shall be glad to see you," Quentin answered philosophically. "Why should I blame you? You're a tiny cog in a huge machine."

As the captives were led into a barred and guarded plane, Quentin put his arm about Jack's big shoulders in sympathy. He looked young to die; and it seemed like a betrayal, to be brought from that wild country to see the wonders of the civilized world, and find this. As the plane rose and headed for New York, where the euthanasia facilities were located, Jack seemed more absorbed in looking down at the Government Buildings which comprised the whole city of Washington, than in the thought of impending death. He looked at Quentin with bewilderment in his face.

"That square massive building just below us is the one we were in? And you say that is the center, the brain, the key of the whole World Government?"

"That is the Government," Quentin replied. "Just as your brain is you. These other countless acres of buildings are merely its arms and fingers and eyes and ears. Without this building they could not function, and the world would be chaos."

Jack stared down fascinatedly.

"And yet," he breathed in amazement, "I ran through miles of corridors, passed hundreds of rooms full of apparatus and instruments, and not a soul did I see."

Quentin nodded in confirmation.

"For an hour I ran, and by the end of it I was caring less about being caught than about finding some people about in these buildings. Is there no one?"

"No one," Quentin replied.

"And yet you say it's the Government!" The boy seemed dumbfounded.

"After all my explaining," Quentin said, "haven't you realized that the Government is merely a huge machine, made of metal and rubber and glass and run by electricity and light and heat?"

"But—but how can machinery govern the world?"

"Better than human beings can. Even your business men in Democratia use machines to help them run their businesses; their offices are full of automatic machines for managing a business, time clocks, adding-machines, bookkeeping machines, cash- registers, Dictaphones—no end of them. The Government Machine is not essentially different. Merely a little more automatic and a little more complex."

"And are all the people willing to be governed by a machine?" It was all amazingly strange to Jack.

"They cannot conceive of anything else," Quentin explained. "For three hundred years they have grown up in it. They are intensely loyal to it, because it not merely governs them as you understand the word govern; it takes care of them as a mother takes care of children."

"They seem to be happy," Jack observed.

Quentin nodded down toward the beautiful countryside over which they were flying at a swift rate. The green fields were intersected by broad roads and huge power lines, and the blue bulk of a city loomed on the horizon.

"The world is more prosperous than it has ever been before," he replied. "Life is thoroughly comfortable, absolutely safe and certain. But you would call it monotonous. Everybody does everything by rule and schedule, all alike, the world over. Standardized. You wouldn't like it."

"I couldn't stand it!" Jack exclaimed.

"Your country, Democratia," continued Quentin, "is made up of the descendants of people who couldn't stand it. During the development period of machine government standardization, the democratic-minded people, who could not fit into it, were having a hard time. They were persecuted and driven from one place to another."

"That's unjust!" Jack was thoroughly democratic.

"They were a small minority. The rest of the world was in earnest; it was afraid of annihilation by war. So it built cities on a standard plan, streets and buildings all alike. From New York to Hong-Kong people live on the same schedule and think by the same rules. That is easier to manage by machinery. Safer. More comfortable."

Jack gazed for a while at the swiftly receding landscape below. "Then why is the Government picking on Democratia now?" he asked.

"It had to come. For some centuries your country in Central Tibet was left in peace because its founders sought the remotest possible isolation. Our Government had its own problems. But, step by step it is striving constantly to perfect the world. Apparently the step has arrived in the process when it is time to remove the only exception to world rule."

"And it sent you over there?" Jack shook his head, puzzled.

"Remember that the Government has no emotions nor prejudices. It works absolutely by logic. It is always perfect in its fairness. A decision on Democratia needed all possible informational data. As communication channels do not extend into Democratia, men had to be sent in."

"And when you do a good job, you get killed for it."

"Logical, though, is it not?" Quentin could be impersonal when discussing the Government Machine. "Now I see why it warned me so emphatically that I was risking my life and gave me repeated opportunities to decline the assignment if I wished to."

"Risking your life? In Democratia?" Jack exclaimed.

"Not at all, although that is the way I understood it at first. The Government needed a resourceful man for the job, and resourceful men are rare in our civilization. I was the best bet—don't laugh at me; I know how helpless and clumsy you think I am—I took my risk and lost it. For, this world cannot permit a resourceful man to live in it."

Jack hardly heard the conclusion. He was gazing in open- mouthed wonder at the huge, solid mass of New York City that loomed ahead, the cliffs of buildings, the surging masses of people and machinery. The plane glided swiftly up above the dull, drab roofs, and landed on the top of a building, guided by a long black streamer at the top of a tall flagpole. Surrounded by guards, the four men were led to an elevator, descended a score of floors, and entered the Euthanasia Chambers.

The furnishings and appointments here were the last word in beauty and luxury. The soft carpets, the rich hangings, the luxurious furniture, the flowers and scents and colors, the foods and wines within reach, all had a tendency to lull the occupants into a sense of peace and drowsy comfort. Each of the party was led to a room where he was to be given twenty-four hours for receiving last visits from friends and relatives. Jack and Quentin elected to remain together in one room.

"Lovely, isn't it," said Quentin ironically. "A year ago its beauty would have stirred my emotions. But your rugged land has cured me. Now I can see the steel and concrete through the velvet, and see it just as an undertaking establishment which you enter alive and leave dead."

Sentier arrived presently. Without his squad of policemen he was not a very impressive man. He almost wept as he greeted Quentin. It looked almost as though he were the one sentenced to death.

"One's duty demands cruel things," he moaned. "Arrest your best friend!"

"I wouldn't do it, that's all," Jack exclaimed.

Quentin patted the boy's back.

"Yes you would," he reminded, "if you and a dozen generations of you had been raised like machines to obey the Government Machine and be loyal to it above all."

Noting Sentier's depressed looks, Quentin offered to relate his adventures in Democratia, and Sentier eagerly grasped at the opportunity to relieve the tension.

"Get a permit to broadcast as much as possible of it," Quentin suggested. "It is a beautiful land and a wonderful people that are about to be destroyed. But, suppose I tell you? What if you sympathize? That will be treason, and you will be—eliminated."

Sentier smiled.

"No danger," he said. "That is why you were sent out and I am a police captain. If I can arrest my best friend in cold blood, how can I sympathize with a distant land and a strange people?"

"In other words," Quentin mused again, "the Government picked me out to die when it selected me for the job?"

"That, of course, depended on what you would find there."

Jack clenched his fists. A frown gathered on his forehead. He glared at the policeman, who was an embodiment of the Government that killed an efficient man for doing his duty, and to whom machines were more important than men. Quentin watched the boy as he talked. Vague possibilities stirred his imagination. What if he might see Martha again? He, Quentin, had the brains for a daring attempt, but not the physical courage. Jack had boldness enough for anything. Quentin worded his story quite as much for its effect on Jack, as for Sentier's benefit.


CHAPTER II.

"JUST a year ago," Quentin began his story to Sentier, "I was called into that same office in Washington and given my instructions. I was offered the chance to refuse without stigma. That I thought ridiculous, for it seemed a wonderful opportunity. I am cursed with a love of adventure, which is a terrible affliction in this monotonous age. I was to spend a year in Democratia, and then come back and give a full report on the life and customs of the country.

"I was so excited that I came within a hair of giving away a secret, and probably with it, my life or liberty. This love of adventure had boiled up within me from youth. For years I had planned some sort of a wild deed. Bit by bit I had secretly assembled an airplane in an obscure cellar on Long Island. It lay there at the moment, with fuel and provisions ready to start, equipped for a rough, uncertain trip, instead of for the scheduled routes which have been carefully standardized. I had an impulse to take this plane for the trip, but a flash of judgment told me that it would be dangerous to reveal my secret.

"I was ordered to take my official planes, which I owned according to my rank and standing. I was not permitted to take my own mechanic; Binder and Steele were assigned as mechanics and Neatman as Secretary. It was all very simple. The three men arrived at my home early one morning; we taxied out of my garage, flew across the city, and out over the Atlantic. Because of the rigid standardization of men, methods, and machines, the mechanics had no need of seeing either me or the plane before the moment of starting.

"We made a quick trip, and I paid little attention to my surroundings during the most of it. The cities look the same and the people act the same everywhere as in New York. Only when we reached the Himalayas I began to feel my first thrill. Those vast stretches, without a city for hundreds of miles, are romantic. We located the Tagnapo River and the ruins of Llhasa, once a large and powerful city; and struck due North into a wild desert where no one ever goes. After some hours of searching, we located the green valley completely shut in by vast mountains and saw the cities of Democratia.

"There were three large, fine ones and a dozen smaller towns, and a sprinkling over the whole land of what must have been villages. Think of it, Sentier, they live in villages! Little collections of a few tiny buildings. Most of the world used to do that a thousand years ago. And even the three great cities of Democratia were not modern as our cities are. They were not built in units. Each building was of different height and size, and they had open streets in single layers. But it was a wonderful- looking land. Think of it, lying hidden away there and the world knowing nothing about it; its bold, resourceful men, its sturdy and beautiful women. When it is puffed out, no one will feel a pang of sympathy for it.

"There were no diplomatic relations between the two governments. Credentials were of no use to them and I received none, nor did I receive any sign of the usual string of rules, instructions, and minutiae. The whole thing was left up to me; and during the whole of the trip over, I pondered on some way of approaching the people of Democratia. I pondered in vain. I knew nothing about the people and their country, and could form no plan. So, I first took a good look at the country from an altitude too great for them to see me. Then I decided to land in some uninhabited spot and spend a night resting and planning. I chose a flat place low down between two tall peaks, near the northern rim of the mountain-surrounded country. A hundred miles away was one of their largest cities.

"We alighted on grass and the air was cold. But we had warm clothing and the cabin of the plane was heated. The beauty of the prospect as worth the cold. The vast, grassy plain, the woods half a mile away, the huge, snow-patched mountains in the opposite direction—we live too much cooped up in cities, Sentier—it took my breath. The others were also impressed, and we had to expend our emotions in a walk toward the woods.

"I ought to have known better. City men have no business in the wilderness. Oh, yes, we took our shock-rods along, and I took an old-fashioned projectile pistol. Half way to the trees we heard a tramping behind us, and turning, beheld a huge goat with winding horns charging for us at full speed. The animal raced swiftly toward us as we stood paralyzed by fear. It seemed to have picked out Steele, and tore right at him. Steele took it coolly enough, and faced the charge with his shock-rod. It paralyzed the goat on contact all right, but it could not stop the momentum of the great, charging body, which rolled crashing on, crushed Steele under it, and nearly got me. I got a bullet in the goat's head before it could get up, astonishing my companions with the noise of the shot. Steele was dead, smashed, when we reached him.

"The sound of galloping hoofs reached us. More goats were coming. We ran for the woods because they were nearer than our plane. Later I got used to the looks of these goats. They are not particularly dangerous. But to us, just then, they were huge, frightful, monsters. We're not used to seeing large, live, free animals. Our frantic fear made us act foolishly.

"At intervals I turned around and shot bullets at the goats. Just now that is laughable. I had no skill with the weapon. My shots went wild. But it helped a little, for the noise confused the goats and retarded their speed somewhat. We reached the trees and hurried far into their depths. The goats did not follow because their horns got tangled in the growth.

"Then, when we had gotten our breath after such unaccustomed exertion, and had waited long enough to give the goats time to wander off, we started back. We walked on through the trees toward the plain, but came to no end of them. We were lost!

"The terrors of that night will be stamped on my memory forever—well, that won't be long. First of all it was cold. We huddled together. Some of us thought of a fire. None of us had ever seen an open fire; but we had read of ancient savages making fires by rubbing sticks. We rubbed sticks till we were exhausted. Of course it was silly for we didn't even know the difference between green and dry wood. We therefore crowded together on the ground, shivering as much with terror as with cold. There was no sleep for us. The noises of the woods, from clicks and crackles to roars and yells, sent grip after grip of fear through our hearts. Sentier, these tales you read of people dying from pure terror are not true. If such a thing were possible, we would all have died the first quarter of the night. Yet, these Democratians spend night after night in the woods and enjoy it. We are just too much pampered by our machines.

"A party of them had camped, not half a mile from us, that night, just too far for us to see their fire. They wrap themselves in blankets and leave one person on guard, and sleep soundly all night. They found us in the morning, numb with cold and dumb with fear. The first I knew of them was a musical voice calling:

"'Quick, Jack!' with a little Oh-like intake of the breath. 'Someone in distress!'

"I looked up. Approaching was a girl in corduroy breeches and high-laced boots—antiquated, romantic. A knapsack. An old- fashioned rifle for shooting bullets. But there was a glow of health in her cheeks that made the chemical beauty of our girls seem ridiculous. To me, that moment, shivering in hungry, hopeless despair, she was the most beautiful, radiant being I had ever seen or imagined. She was the sister of Jack here. He was with her."

Quentin looked about the velvet draperies that concealed their prison walls, as though it were hard to believe that it all hung together somehow. He sank his face in his hands for an instant. Sentier was embarrassed. Sentier could sympathize with the love affair. Men of his day were experts in those. Quentin did not even look at Jack, and in a moment had thrown off the mood, and continued:

"They had us comfortable in a few minutes. Jack and his father came up very soon. Before our eyes they made a fire. Sentier, you ought to see a fire before you die. They boiled coffee and eggs. Did you ever eat an egg, Sentier? The delicious odors, the warmth of the fire, the beauty of the girl who was on an equal with the men in strength and efficiency, and had no simpering feminine wiles about her—I was sold on Democratia from then on.

"'Who are you, and whence are you?' was their first question.

"'Just on a pleasure cruise,' I put in quickly before any of the rest of our party could speak. 'Bound nowhere in particular. We liked this spot and wanted to look at it more closely, and got lost. We spent all night in the woods.'

"'Unarmed? Without fire?' The girl looked worlds of sympathy at us.

"'We're city folks, not used to being out,' I said.

"'So are we city folks—' Jack began, but his father silenced him with a look.

"They persuaded us to come to their camp, and promised to find our plane. After some sleep and rest I began to notice things. There were a dozen people in a tiny house of logs on the mountain. They were living there for a month. They had no heating system, no lighting system—depended on open fires. No kinephone service. No tube delivery. Not even properly prepared food. They ate just animals and plants boiled over a fire. No transportation; they walked everywhere. Yet they were enjoying it. Doing it for pleasure! Can you imagine it?

"And can you imagine me enjoying it? I got interested early. I learned to build a fire. Too bad there's no place around here to build a fire. I learned to shoot a rifle. Much more thrilling than a shock-rod. At the end of the month I could walk ten miles and enjoy it. I could sleep out all night and make my own breakfast. Compared with these people, though, Sentier, I was helpless. Compared with them, all of us are helpless. Little helpless larvae, such as ants carry around.

"We depend for everything on machinery and on our Government. The Government gives us food and water and amusement and its machines work for us and take care of us. Without its care we would die in a few days.

"These people haven't much government: a ridiculous meeting of so-called representatives once a year, which spends most of its time arguing and never gets anywhere. They have 'laws' which they obey when it's convenient and possible.

"But they don't need a government. We do. They can take care of themselves. With their own individual hands they can grapple with Nature, and wrest life and comfort from her trees and rocks and beasts. Jack here is only eighteen, but he could probably take you and break you up in short pieces. Don't grab your rod. He knows it won't get him anywhere. He could probably go several days without much food or sleep. Ever tried that, Sentier?

"We may have a wonderful civilization, Sentier, but as individuals, we're feeble sprouts. What's the good of all these millions of us, all alike? Humanity by mass production. What would be the loss if they all died today?

"We were taken to the largest of their cities, a primitive sort of place with individual buildings and individual cars running about. Jack's father was a high government official and had been vacationing in the mountains. He was a rugged and kindly man, very much concerned about the welfare of the people over whom his authority extended. He took us to his home and shared its comforts with us. Imagine that, Sentier! Taking a total stranger into your home, having him eat with you, sleep in your rooms!

"It wasn't long before I found myself in an uncomfortable pickle. These people were kind to us, doing all they could to make us feel at home. Friendly. Couldn't help loving them. And here I was spying. Preparing to betray their kindness to me. For, much as I liked their country and their ways, I knew that the Government Machine would not. I spent several weeks of torture.

"Furthermore, I was supposed to stay there a year. It was not plausible that even idle tourists would tarry for a year by the wayside. They would wonder, why didn't I go on?

"The father of Jack and Martha noted my worry and depression. He asked me about it, with blunt primitive directness.

"'There is something about your situation here that worries you,' he said. 'Tell me what it is, and I can help you.' See? None of the roundabout diplomacy that we're used to. He got the whole story out of me.

"The deep lines in his face, with its little fringe of beard, made him look very wise and very kind. You've never seen a man with a beard, have you, Sentier? It adds dignity.

"'The only thing for you to do,' he said, 'is to stay and do your duty. We'll be friends, because we like you and know you can't help it. Go back when the time comes. If you don't, they will send others, who may be more dangerous to us than you are.'

"Then I was more at peace until the time approached to go. I kept my Secretary busy writing up notes, and the mechanics keeping the plane in condition. I went around doing my best to study the country. I learned about money and buying and political parties, about poor people and unemployment. I learned to drive one of their little cars. I actually held a 'job' and made my own living for a few weeks, though I think my employer was glad to get rid of me. But most of the time I was a 'guest,' an exception to the prevailing conditions in which everyone had to hammer out his living with his own hands or starve.

"I took long trips through their country in great steel carriages that run on rails. Martha accompanied me almost everywhere. She had been charming that first day in her rough hunting suit when she found us nearly dead; she was charming later in a thousand ways, in soft and long gowns, dancing to spirited music; in athletic white, vigorously playing a very active game called tennis; she knew her people and her country thoroughly, and was my guide and teacher in my studies.

"At our first meeting I was weak and helpless and half dead; she was sturdy and resourceful; I looked up to her on dizzy heights above me with a hopeless, sorrowful feeling. Ten months later, physically fit to look after her safety, I took her on a glacier-climb, paying all the expenses with 'money' I had 'earned' myself. There's a pride in earning money, Sentier; too bad you can't try it.

"We have practically eliminated wild animals from the rest of the world, but these people preserve them and limit their destruction for the sport of hunting them. It is a dangerous sport. Martha and I never suspected any danger, when we were climbing up the easy ice-slopes in a frolicking fashion. She was ahead, around a point of ice and out of sight, when I heard her screams.

"I hurried up. Two white bears had attacked her. One had her rifle in its mouth and was pawing and crunching at it. The other had her down and was rolling her back and forth with its front paws, and tearing playfully at her clothes with its teeth.

"Then they saw me. Both snarled. The one with the rifle dropped it and came at me. These creatures looked clumsy, but they can move. The thing was on me before I could unsling my rifle, and I went down under it. As the beast pummeled me, I scrambled for the long hunting-knife which I had learned to wear at my belt as do all of these people out in the open. I plunged the knife into his ribs a dozen times before he finally dropped and slid down the icy slope. I was completely soaked in his blood.

"By this time Martha was also jabbing with her knife and was bloody from head to foot, but the bear was still going strong. She was cool enough, but concerned about her face. She held up her arm to protect it from the animal's long claws, and this interfered with her knife thrusts. I finished him with three jabs and he crashed down on her. When I dragged him off, she did not get up, but lay there moaning.

"She had a broken leg. I—a product of this effete civilization, pampered by the Government Machine, raised like a lily in a hothouse—I splinted her leg with the scabbards of the long hunting knives and hoisted her across my shoulders there on the slippery ice. I toiled back with her and it was night before I reached the car, and toward morning before I drove into a village and secured medical help. What would you do, Sentier—police are huskier than the average—with two bears and only a knife; and a girl you loved, with a broken leg, a hundred miles away from the nearest habitation? No buttons to push, no lever to set, no machinery to wait on you.

"I spent delightful weeks in Martha's company while she was confined with her fracture. Before they were over, she was pledged to be my wife. Why an able and beautiful girl like that should want to marry a clumsy and incompetent lubber like myself, I could not understand.

"'I don't want to go back to Washington,' I said.

"'Let us settle down right away, and forget about Civilization.'

"'I should like it, of course,' she smiled.

"'Let the old Government Machine find someone else to do its dirty work!' I exclaimed. 'I'm happy here. Never again could I be happy in those roaring hives back there!'

"We planned our home, and counted on a teaching position which had been offered me in one of their universities, and I was happy about my future with her, and with these delightful people. I hesitated about informing the Secretary and the Mechanic. They were not quite as much delighted with the country of Democratia as I was, and were eagerly looking forward to the end of the year, when they might go back to the brilliant lights and the gay entertainment of Broadway. It was difficult for me to force myself to tell them.

"Finally, when our preparations began to be outwardly apparent, Martha's father took us in to talk to him.

"'Do you think this wise?' he asked me. 'From what I gather, your Government Machine does not lose track of details, and does not forgive failures.'

"'How could it find me here?' I asked, but rather hesitatingly.

"'Another phase of the matter is this. You sympathize with us and our country. We would much rather have you make the report. Suppose they send another man, less friendly? What would happen to us?'

"So, I started back for Washington, with a heavy heart because I must leave behind a girl, who, in beauty, in force of character, in real ability, mental and physical, is worth, all the women in this feeble and degenerate civilization."

He had been talking with his head bowed toward his knees. When he ceased, there was silence. It was a queer silence, lacking things that ought to have been there. He looked up. Sentier was also bowed over. Slumped over, in fact. Jack stood behind him; and as Quentin looked up, Jack straightened up and shook his hands from the wrists as though to limber them up. As Quentin stared amazed, Jack gave Sentier a shove; the latter rolled down on the floor and flopped over on his back in a loose, sickening sort of way. His face was purple, his black tongue protruded, and there were black marks on his neck.

"Neat job," Jack said, "if you're really as surprised as you look. You went too far, reminding me of Sis and home."


CHAPTER III.

QUENTIN looked down at the dead man, and up at Jack's stalwart figure.

"Democracy versus mechanocracy," he said. "That is the way it goes between individuals. Between the organized groups, it would come out exactly the opposite.

"The machine wins, though its subject people are weaklings. Wouldn't it be better for the race to destroy the machine?

"But I couldn't do it. Every fiber of my nature has been brought up to consider the Government Machine as a sacred mother—

"But, I'll bet Jack would have the nerve in a minute—"

"Come," whispered Jack shrilly, "let's get out!"

He was already stripping off the dead man's uniform. He held it up and surveyed it ruefully against his own strapping bulk.

"I'll put it on," Quentin said. "I can act the part where you cannot. It'll be your turn when the rough-house begins."

Quentin's clothes were put on the dead man, and the latter's keys were used to open the door. They walked past the sentry at the door, receiving his salute without the flutter of an eyelid, and marched down the hallway, Jack in front with the handcuffs on, but not locked. Quentin came behind him in the captain's uniform, bearing the shock-rod. They had no plan, except that Quentin suddenly thought of his secret airplane, and determined to get to it.

But how? It was out on Long Island. They were in the middle of a huge city, one solid structure honeycombed with mazes and labyrinths of streets and passages horizontal and vertical. The end of it was three or four miles away, three or four miles of endless, buzzing, swarming, whirling machinery and humanity between them and open country.

"Our best bet," Quentin said, "is to get down to the lowest level. There we ought to find some sort of a burrow to crawl out of. To the elevator."

They reached the elevator and pushed its button. Its door opened and they stepped in, setting the button on the "eight- below" level, the lowest of them all. The car started down.

A gong clanged and kept on clanging somewhere in the depths of the building. A loud speaker began to bellow hoarsely on the floor they were passing; its roar died down as they left the floor behind, but was taken up by another on the floor below.

"The guard has found Sentier," whispered Quentin, "and has turned in the alarm. Well, let's show 'em a scrap!"

A new voice began in the speaker. It was crisp and gave orders.

"—all doors," they heard as they shot past a floor.

"—shut off the Power and search all elevators—" on another.

"Hm!" said Quentin as the elevator slowed down and they saw through the bars a group of blue uniforms approaching. Jack was tense for a fight.

"Not yet!" Quentin warned him. "Remember we can't fight the organization."

"All right!" he shouted to the approaching policemen. "I've got one of them. One of you come along. And get the power back on quick and the elevator moving, so that I can hustle him back where he belongs."

The policemen saluted Quentin. One of them stepped in and glared at Jack. The elevator door closed. In a few moments the car shot upward again.

Quentin touched the policeman with the shock-rod, and as he lay limp, Jack put the handcuffs on him, tied his feet with a strap from the policeman's own puttees, and gagged him with a handkerchief. The policeman, unaccustomed to such rough handling, winced and shrank away, groaning. The elevator shot upward swiftly, passing floors by dozens and scores. The Euthanasia Chambers were left far below. On each floor were crowding people, clanging gongs, and bellowing speakers. Eventually they stopped. Outside was huge machinery, wheels, pulleys, motors. Above was the sky of wavy glass. Somewhere, far away below, were footsteps pounding up metal stairs. They were just under the roof, a thousand feet above the ground.

"Up on my shoulders!" said Jack, glancing up at the skylight.

Quentin unhooked the skylight, climbed out, and helped Jack up after him. All about them was a sea of roofs, miles and miles of them, flat dirty, with little cubicles and penthouses scattered by the hundreds and ventilators by the thousands. Above them on its tall flagpole waved the black streamer, which undoubtedly marked the location of the Euthanasia Chambers as a guide for aircraft. There were other flagpoles and other streamers, but no more black ones. They ran. They ran at random, not knowing whither.

They ran till their breath was all gone, and then sank down and lay flat. Jack still trembled at the sensation of having crossed a bridge way between two buildings and glimpsed a street a thousand feet below, a faint stream of blended, moving masses. Just now there was no one in sight. The scene was no different than when they had started. Only the absence of the black streamer made him sure that they were in a different place.

"Bad fix," Quentin said. "We'll starve up here."

"Oh, no," Jack replied easily. "We'll depend on the sun for direction, and keep going till we find an end or edge. We'll find some way of getting to the ground and getting away."

"Well, you've got nerve, anyway. And it's better to die trying than to sit here."

Then they noted airplanes searching round and round above them. They crouched down in the shadows between the pipes and cubicles. The planes came lower and closer together.

"They got the planes out quick," Jack observed.

"It did, you mean. It's all automatic. The men are just tools. The whole city is an electrical brain, and is just a subsidiary of the Washington brain; a sort of inferior ganglion. The men could never think nor work that fast. The planes are now coming straight at us; evidently they have located us by some such methods as the refractograph, which by the refraction of light detects the column of carbon dioxide rising from our lungs, the telaud which can hear us whisper or our hearts beat, or the bolograph which locates us by the heat of our bodies."

A plane landed on a level place a hundred yards away. Another and another alighted beside it. Figures poured out and began to close in on the two fugitives. Ahead of them was the edge of the building, with a sheer vertical drop of a thousand feet. There was no bridgeway, no door.

"Ha!" Quentin pointed to a flagpole from which floated a long silver streamer. It was some sort of a commercial signal to aircraft. The halliards on which the flag hung extended down over the edge of the roof. "Those ropes run into a window below."

Figures in blue were running toward them. Jack slid down the rope first and disappeared. Quentin waited for the rope to loosen as Jack got off, uncertain as to whether it would hold their combined weight. But he found a policeman sliding down the rope after him. The policeman hung on tightly and moved gingerly; Quentin looked up and saw his face ashy pale as it looked down at him. For the two of them swung out in space over a canyon a thousand feet deep, at the bottom of which moved slow streams of men and machines. A blended murmur came up to the two tiny men dangling high up there on a rope.

The policeman was poking downward toward Quentin with his shock-rod. Other faces were looking down over the edge of the roof, tense and distorted. Jack shouted from below, some incoherent, encouraging thing. The policeman slid down faster to catch Quentin. Quentin jabbed viciously upwards with his shock- rod and felt it touch. The policeman went limp and seemed to float out into space. His blue body sprawled out and turned over and over as it fell. With deadly rapidity it grew smaller and contracted to a dot far down in the gloom below. Quentin felt himself drawn into the window and trembled as he sat down for an instant on the floor.

Jack was dragging him toward a door. He could see the flag halliards tightening as another man started down. Out in the corridor they found gongs ringing and speakers bellowing, but no people. On all sides there was a roar and clatter of machinery behind closed doors. They opened one and dashed into a huge room full of big machines in rows; steam sizzled and white linen flashed by. At the far end, from every machine in a long row came baskets piled high with clean laundry, and scudded along roller conveyors into openings in the wall. People were visible. The baskets of laundry disappearing into dark openings gave Quentin an idea.

"Come on!" shouted Quentin.

They ran across the room. Each seized one of the baskets, dumped the linen on the floor, set the basket back on the roller conveyor, and got into it.

The darkness of the pit closed upon them. Machinery clattered and steam hissed. They bent low, not knowing what was above them. They felt themselves sink rapidly and again tipped level; there were gears grinding as they rounded corners. There seemed no end of sinking down and down in the blackness.

Finally, after a clatter of paper there came a burst of light. They saw clothes dumped out of baskets, wrapped in paper, and shot into tubes, all by machinery. They leaped out on the floor. Again there were no people. No bawling speakers. No gongs. Only the open mouths of pneumatic tubes, an endless row of them, each marked with its destination.

Quentin eagerly looked for Brooklyn. It took but a moment to find it.

"All aboard for Long Island!" he shouted in glee.

As a wrapped package came down the conveyor toward the Brooklyn tube, he rolled it off and they took its place. The lid popped shut on the tube, nearly rupturing their ear-drums, and they were plunged in darkness. After the first rush and swirl and roar, all was quiet for minutes.

Again there was a roar and a crash and a burst of daylight. The two fugitives jumped up and ran, knocking over several astonished people who were waiting for packages; their destination was an open door with daylight beyond. Out there was a row of trucks with laundry packages dropping into them from overhead chutes. They were automatic trucks such as are used for making deliveries beyond the pneumatic-tube zone.

They leaped into the foremost truck. Quentin set the switches on impulse for Bay Shore, because that was not where he wanted to go, and they both rolled back into the closed portion of the vehicle. The truck started slowly, gathered momentum, and automatically made its way out of the city.

After fifteen minutes of eternity, they looked out. The truck was moving swiftly along a country road. Twilight was gathering rapidly.

"We'd better jump out and let it go on," Quentin suggested. "It's clever and powerful."

"What is?" asked Jack, "the Police Department?"

"The Machine. The Government Machine in Washington and its subsidiary portion in New York. It's a big brain. The police are dumb tools."

They waited for the truck to slow up around a curve, and jumped out. They alighted on grass. Jack rolled over and jumped up. Quentin found his breath gone and his head dizzy. He crawled unsteadily into the shelter of some shrubbery. In a few minutes a half-dozen speedcycles on the road and planes in the air whizzed by, in pursuit of the laundry car.

"See how quickly it works," Quentin said.

"It's uncanny to hear you talk about it!" Jack exclaimed. "It's inhuman!"

"Next it will be flares and spotlights," Quentin warned.

Quentin found walking difficult and felt a terrific headache. He must have gotten a crack on the head when he fell out of the truck. Jack supported him and they staggered on. Ten miles ahead was their destination, his little country bungalow with its secret cellar. This was familiar terrain for Quentin, but ten miles cross-country in the darkness was none the less difficult. Even crossing a road would be dangerous. As they stumbled across field and through brush and timber, Quentin felt himself growing weaker.

It was not long before the lights appeared. Ahead of them, to the right, the country was lighted as bright as day.

"They're headed wrong," Quentin chuckled as he staggered desperately along. "We're going to the left at right angles to them."

Quentin did not recollect the rest of the night very clearly. Jack's strong shoulders were a comfort without which he could not have gone a mile. His head cleared up now and then in flashes to answer Jack's questions, and again he would relapse into a half- comatose state in which he walked. The guiding of the way depended on him.

"No rest from the Machine," went round and round in his head. "On all sides of us, thousands, millions of tentacles are squirming to close in on us, day and night. Soon my buzzing brain will give out. Then the Machine will reach out and pick us up. The Machine ought to be destroyed—!

"But that is treason," leaped through his brain in a sudden shock. "How do I dare even think such treason? Because my head sings from the bump it got, I suppose. But suppose Jack thought that. That would not be treason. And Jack has physical courage to do things, even to destroy the Machine. It would be easy to do just that one square building. Wreck that, and the Government Machine is dead. Jack would dare it if I told him.

"But I can't make myself tell him. It is treason. Even to think it is treason. Why can't he see it himself? I keep giving him hints—"

Jack kept continuously interrupting him with questions.

"How can they make it so much like daylight over there?"

Quentin hoped in a dazed way that his explanation of the thousand-foot flare circles that eliminated shadows, was correct. Then again he trudged on in his sleep, till he was roused by Jack.

"How do we get across?"

He came wide awake for a moment. In front was a twenty-foot wall.

"The Long Island Transformer Depot. We'll have to go around. To the left. That was a bad crack on my head. I've got to rest."

Jack had to lift him and drag him a few feet before his legs got to swinging again. Then again came Jack's demand for a key.

"Got to move," Jack said. "The lights are starting this way."

"Here we are!" Quentin shouted as he came to again. He unlocked the door to the little bungalow. They found themselves in a small hallway from which steps led down to the spacious underground shop. Jack gasped in amazement at it.

"I understood you to say," he exclaimed, "that you did this secretly and alone. Why, digging this cave would take years of time."

Quentin was nodding drowsily again.

"Power is cheap," he said. "See there."

There was a heap of cartridge-like things.

"I dug out this place with those. Screw a red one to a blue one and drop them. It is a slow explosion. No noise. But in a few moments everything, iron, rock, everything is a loose, fluffy powder. I swept it out. And now I've got to sleep. My head hurts."


CHAPTER IV.

QUENTIN awoke to the humming of smooth, well- adjusted machinery. Bright sunlight shone full upon him. He lay and rested, and was conscious of a headache. There was a painful lump on his occiput. He studied the strange place about him.

Finally he realized that it was the cabin of his own secret plane. He sat up. Down below was blue water, and to the left a beautiful lacy shore and blue mountains. In front of him was Jack, peering ahead. As Jack heard a stir behind him, he sat up; his face lighted up to see Quentin awake.

"Where are we?" Quentin asked.

"I'm no geographer," Jack said, "but it must be the Mediterranean."

"See!" continued the boy. "We got away from 'em? Or from It, as you say." He grinned as though on a schoolboy lark.

Quentin shook his head gloomily.

"We're not out of it yet. Sooner or later it will get us—anywhere on this earth. My big hope is that I might see Martha first."

He sat, sunk in gloomy thoughts. Jack grinned happily. He seemed to be a creature that responded to the happy stimuli of the present, and forgot that there was a future.

"You need some breakfast, sir," he said. "Then you'll feel better."

Quentin ate and then lay down and slept again. After he awoke, he spent many hours searching the sky around him and the fleeting ground below. It was acute torture to feel that every moment a swarm of planes would swoop down on them. Every dot in the blue caused him to peer intently and with beating heart and clutching hands, until it was passed by safely. But it began to look hopeful as they passed over Asia Minor and into India, without any sign of pursuit or interference. He permitted pleasant thoughts of Martha to flow through his mind.

Above northern India he became alert. Eagerly he watched the Himalayas fall behind. The machine needed only an occasional touch for guidance. A shout from Jack called his attention to the green levels of Democratia. Slowly its woods and mountains separated themselves from the blue haze. Then they crossed its edge. They headed toward the capital.

Quentin's heart pounded. He was now confident that no matter what happened eventually, he would see Martha first. Up to the present time he had been racked with uncertainty. Her image rose up before his eyes, and his veins tingled and his breath came short with anticipation.

The radio of Quentin's plane could not tune in with the inferior ones of Democratia; none of his messages got through. Therefore, no one awaited them at the landing-field. But, after telephoning and driving in a car, they were eventually at the house of Jack's father, and Quentin and Martha were in each other's arms. And after that, the four of them were gravely discussing the future.

"There is no hope," Quentin said. "The Government considers that it owns the Earth. It has pronounced sentence and nothing on earth can prevent its being carried out."

"How do you suppose they will do it?" asked Quentin's host; "Explosives?"

"Hardly explosives," considered Quentin. "Gas probably. Gas bombs from planes. Electric charges and disease bacilli are possible, but the one is unnecessarily expensive and the other unnecessarily brutal. The Government Machine is inexorable; but it will do nothing unnecessary. It is hard for you to realize the absolutely perfect, impersonal logic of the Machine. My guess is gas, some swift, painless gas."

"Perhaps," Jack said, "they will shout us to death with those shriekers they had on all their floors."

"Now, Jack!" Martha protested, in tears. She clung to Quentin. "But it's just like you, being silly, even in the face of death."

"What I ought to do," Jack bantered, swelling up his biceps, "is to punch the face of death right in the nose." Jack loved his sister and was doing his best to cheer her up in his clumsy way.

Then they discussed whether or not an alarm ought to be spread among the people of Democratia. Quentin's host was in a responsible government position and had authority to decide.

"What would be the use?" Quentin asked. "No defense is possible. No escape is possible. There would only be panic and riots and needless suffering. It is most merciful to let it come as a complete surprise."

"We'll carry the burden, then."

Quentin and Martha spent most of the day clinging close together. There was no sleep for them nor for her father that night.

"Isn't it terrible!" Martha exclaimed, "to see that young animal, Jack, sleep soundly in spite of all this? Hasn't he any feelings? We may never see the morning light again."

But morning dawned bright and clear upon the smiling land. It was torture to the three people who anxiously scanned the sky. Jack went out to play golf and the rest of the nation went about its business. In the middle of the forenoon four planes appeared in the southern sky. Shortly afterwards Jack came in, much interested in them, but showing no fear. He was certainly a primitive creature.

The planes came straight toward the city, and the three watchers prepared to die; and bade goodbye to each other and to Jack, who by this time had grown serious and looked worried.

Quentin was almost breathless when the planes settled hesitatingly on the landing-field. An emergency car hurried him and his companion out there. There, in a circle between the four planes, were a dozen people, most of whom Quentin recognized as prominent figures in New York life. But they looked pale and crushed; they looked about furtively and helplessly. Despair showed in their attitudes and in their silence. They livened up a little when they saw Quentin approaching. He looked at them in amazement and waited for them to speak.

"We've come to ask for help," one of them said. "Will you help us?"

Again Quentin could not find words.

"The world is in chaos," the man said. "Disorder. Starvation. Disease. People are dying by millions. Trampling, exposure, suicide—no one knows what to do."

"What in the world has happened?" Quentin managed to gasp.

"An explosion," the man answered. "The key parts of the Government Machine are totally destroyed. No one knows how to repair it. The world is disorganized."

Quentin stared blankly.

"We thought perhaps you had done it," the man continued. "We knew of your daring escape—"

Quentin silently shook his head. Then he got a sudden idea.

"Jack!" he said sharply, turning toward that young man. "You rascal—"

Jack sheepishly came out from behind his sister.

"What do you know about this?" Quentin demanded.

"Well," Jack stammered. "You were so positive that inhuman thing would catch us sooner or later—I didn't want to take any chances. It wanted to kill all of our people. And you were knocked out with a bump on your head—

"The red and blue cartridges looked interesting. I tried a pair out on a couple of police cycles that were snooping around outside the house. It wiped them out.

"So I rolled you into the plane, blew the doors open, shoveled in the cartridges, and headed for Washington. I spent that trip screwing together as many as I could. Then I spilled a couple of hatfuls on the Government Building, and waited only long enough to see the corners begin to crumple. Then I lit out, straight up in the air. There were too many planes around—"

The rest was smothered in his sister's hug. His father had an arm about his shoulders. Quentin slapped him on the back.

The spokesman again approached Quentin. "Will you and these people help us?"

"We will," Martha's father said.

"We'll reorganize the world." said Quentin.

"As a democracy." Jack added.

"And you, Jack," Quentin said, "will do a whale of a big share of the job. We need guys like you."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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