THE GREAT ship poised a quarter of a mile above one of the cities. Below was a cosmic desolation. As he floated down in his energy bubble, Enash saw that the buildings were crumbling with age.
“No signs of war damage!” “The bodiless voice touched his ears momentarily. Enash turned it out.
On the ground he collapsed his bubble. He found himself in a walled enclosure overgrown with weeds. Several skeletons lay in the tail grass beside the rakish building.
They were of long, two-legged, two-armed beings with skulls in each case mounted at the end of a thin spine. The skeletons, all of adults, seemed in excellent preservation, but when he bent down and touched one, a whole section of it crumbled into a fine powder. As he straightened, he saw that Yoal was floating down nearby. Enash waited until the historian had stepped out of his bubble, then he said: “Do you think we ought to use our method of reviving the long dead?”
Yoal was thoughtful. “I have been asking questions of the various people who have landed, and there is something wrong here. This planet has no surviving life, not even insect life. We’ll have to find out what happened before we risk any colonization.”
Enash said nothing. A soft wind was blowing. It rustled through a clump of trees nearby. He motioned towards the trees. Yoal nodded and said, “Yes, the plant life }ias not been harmed, but plants after all are not affected in the same way as the active life forms.”
There was an interruption. A voice spoke from Yoal’s re-ceiver: “A museum has ‘been found at approximately the centre of the city. A red light has been fixed on the roof.”
Enash said, “I’ll go with you, Yoal. “There might be skeletons of animals and of the intelligent being in various stages of his evolution. You didn’t answer my question.
Are you going to revive these things?”
Yoal said slowly, “I intend to discuss the matter with the council, but I think there is no doubt. We must know the cause of this disaster.” He waved one sucker vaguely to take in half the compass. He added as an afterthought, “We shall proceed cautiously, of course, beginning with an obviously early development. The absence of the skeletons of children indicates that the race had developed personal immortality.”
The council came to look at the exhibits. It was, Enash knew, a formal preliminary only. The decision was made.
There would be revivals. It was more than that. They were curious. Space was vast, the journeys through it long and lonely, landing always a stimulating experience, with its prospect of new life forms to be seen and studied.
The museum looked ordinary. High-domed ceilings, vast rooms. Plastic models of strange beasts, many artifactstoo many to see and comprehend in so short a time. The life span of a race was imprisoned here in a progressive array of relics. Enash looked with the others, and was glad when they came to the line of skeletons and preserved bodies.
He seated himself behind the energy screen, and watched the biological experts take a preserved body out of a stone sarcophagus. It was wrapped in windings of cloth, many of them. The experts did not bother to unravel the rotted material. Their forceps reached through, pinched a piece of skullthat was the accepted procedure. Any part of the skeleton could be used, but the most perfect revivals, the most complete reconstructions resulted when a certain section of the skull was used.
Hamar, the chief biologist, explained the choice of body.
“The chemicals used to preserve this mummy show a sketchy knowledge of chemistry. The carvings on the sarcophagus indicate a crude and unmechanical culture. In such a civilization there would not be much development of the potentialities of the nervous system. Our speech experts have been analysing the recorded voice mechanism which is a part of each exhibit, and though many languages are involved evidence that the ancient language spoken at the time the body was alive has been reproducedthey found no difficulty in translating the meanings. They have now adapted our uni-versal speech machine, so that anyone who wishes to need only speak into his communicator, and so will have his words translated into the language of the revived person. The re-verse, naturally, is also true. Ah, I see we are ready for the first body.”
Enash watched intently with the others as the lid was clamped down on the plastic reconstructor, and the growth processes were started. He could feel himself becoming tense.
For there was nothing haphazard about what was happen-ing. In a few minutes a full-grown ancient inhabitant of this planet would sit up and stare at them. The science involved was simple and always fully effective. ~
…. Out of the shadows of smallness, life grows. The level of beginning and ending, of life andnot life; in that dim region matter oscillates easily between old and new habits. The habit of organic, or the habit of inorganic.
Electrons do not have life and un-life values. Atoms form into molecules, there is a step in the process, one tiny step, that is of lifeif life begins at all. One step, and then dark-ness. Or aliveness.
A stone or a living cell. A grain of gold or a blade of grass, the sands of the sea or the equally numerous ani-malcules inhabiting the endless fishy watersthe difference is there in the twilight zone of matter. Each living cell has in it the whole form. The crab grows a new leg when the old one is torn from its flesh. Both ends of the planarian worm elongate, and soon there are two worms, two identities, two digestive systems each as greedy as the original, each a whole, unwounded, unharmed by its experience. Each cell can be the whole. Each cell remembers in detail so intricate that no totality of words could ever descibe the completeness achieved.
Butparadoxmemory is not organic. An ordinary wax record remembers sounds. A wire recorder easily gives up a duplicate of the voice that spoke into it years before. Memory is a physiological impression, a mark on matter, a change in the shape of a molecule, so that when a reaction is desired the shape emits the same rhythm of response.
Out of the mummy’s skull had come the multi-quadrillion memory shapes from which a response was now being evoked. As ever, the memory held true.
A man biinked, and opened his eyes.
“It is true, then,” he said aloud, and the words were translated into the Ganae tongue as he spoke them. “Death is merely an opening into another lifebut where are my attendants?” At the end, his voice took on a complaining tone.
He sat up, and climbed out of the case, which had automatically opened as he came to life. He saw his captors. He froze, but only for a moment. He had a pride and a very special arrogant courage, which served him now. Reluctantly, he sank to his knees and made obeisance, but doubt must have been strong in him. “Am I in the presence of the gods of Egypt?” He climbed to his feet. “What nonsense is this? I do not bow to nameless demons.”
Captain Gorsid said, “Kill him!”
The two-legged monster dissolved, writhing in the beam of a ray gun.
The second revived man stood up, pale, and trembled with fear. “My God, I swear I won’t touch the stuff again.
Talk about pink elephants”
Yoal was curious. “To what stuff do you refer, revived one?”
“The old hooch, the poison in the hip pocket flask, the juice they gave me at that speak … my lordie!”
Captain Gorsid looked questioningly at Yoal, “Need we linger?”
Yoal hesitated. “I am curious.” He addressed the man. “If I were to tell you that we were visitors from another star, what would be your reaction?”
The man stared at him. He was obviously puzzled, but the fear was stronger. “Now, look,” he said, “I was driving along, minding my own business. I admit I’d had a shot or two too many, but it’s the liquor they serve these days. I swear I didn’t see the other carand if this is some new idea of punishing people who drink and drive, well, you’ve won. I won’t touch another drop as long as I live, so help me.”
Yoal said, “He drives a ‘car’ and thinks nothing of it. Yet we saw no cars. They didn’t even bother to preserve them in the museums.”
Enash noticed that everyone waited for everyone else to comment. He stirred as he realized the circle of silence would be complete unless he spoke. He said, “Ask him to describe the car. How does it work?”
“Now, you’re talking,” said the man. “Bring on your line of chalk, and I’ll walk it, and ask any questions you please.
I may be so tight that I can’t see straight, but I can always drive. How does it work? You just put her in gear, and step on the gas.”