Stowaway to Mars by John Wyndham

‘And according to Einstein, nothing can travel faster than light so what?’ asked the doctor cheerfully.

‘That hadn’t occurred to me,’ Dale admitted. ‘Absurd, because it’s obvious enough once you’ve mentioned it. Anyhow, that seems to kill the idea of remote control from Mars.’

‘That’s what I thought,’ said Joan.

They stared at her again.

‘Wait a minute. What do you mean that’s just what you thought? Dash it all, you said ‘ Froud objected.

‘Oh no, I didn’t. I said that that was my father’s theory, and you took it for granted that I believed it, too.’

‘But I distinctly remember at least, I thought I remembered Oh well, if that wasn’t your idea, what was?’

A little of Joan’s assurance left her; she glanced at the faces round her and hesitated; when she spoke, it was with a slightly defiant note.

‘It seemed to me to be an individual: a machine that could think for itself.’

The men looked at one another.

‘No, hang it all, there are limits,’ Frond said, at last.

‘I couldn’t explain it any other way can you?’

‘What about my idea of control by the ship which brought it?’ put in the doctor.

But Joan shook her head.

‘I tell you, its responses were quicker than our own.’

Froud said: ‘You’re fooling. You can’t really mean it. Why it’s, it’s preposterous.’

‘I know,’ she admitted quietly. ‘But preposterous or not, there it is. There is only one other possibility and that’s my father’s explanation and if he’s right, Einstein was wrong. And though I admire my father, my devotion has its limits.

‘I was sure almost from the first that it was an an entity: not just an enlarged tool as other machines are. That’s why it frightened me at the beginning, and that’s why I never quite lost my fright of it. I suppose it was due to not knowing what it could do, and what its limitations were. You see, it was so, so utterly alien. Yet I thought all the thoughts you are thinking now when I wasn’t actually with it. Of course it is ridiculous: such a thing could not possibly be. I used to lie awake at night devising tests for it to prove to myself that it wasn’t true. But they didn’t prove it. Everything I did seemed to show me more and more clearly that it was an individual, as much cut off from Mars as we were.

‘I tell you, when I tested it, it understood what I was doing. It used to watch us with its lenses as if it knew what was puzzling us. It could look after itself, too; while it was with us, it even replaced one of its damaged feet with a new one which it made itself. I’m prepared to admit that it might have been made to do all that by remote control, except for one thing the lack of time lag.’

‘You mean,’ said Dugan, as if the idea had just filtered past his resistance.

‘You mean that this thing was a what shall we call it? a robot?’

‘We shall not call it a robot,’ said Doctor Grayson. ‘ “Robot” was a word which Capek used to mean a synthetic human workman, but since Froud’s miserable profession took the word up, it’s ceased to mean anything. Anyway, there’s no synthetic man appearance about this thing.’ He turned to Joan. ‘The trouble about you is that you’re such a level-headed young woman. If almost anyone else I know had come out with a suggestion like that, I’d have recommended a nice long sleep, with a sedative. As it is ‘ He shrugged.

‘It takes some getting used to,’ she admitted.

Froud nodded. ‘More than that. By the way, this isn’t your idea of doing a journalist a good turn and providing him with copy, is it?’

‘And yet,’ Joan went on, ‘when you get used to the idea, it doesn’t seem quite so unreasonable, somehow. Machinery must be gradually evolving in some way: why not towards this?’ She looked at Dale. ‘Have you ever really considered the machine?’

Dale turned a good humoured, but rather puzzled face. Evidently he meant to let bygones be bygones, for he did not treat her latest fantastic suggestion with the contempt he had poured upon the first. His manner was akin to that of one who conscientiously plays a game within the bounds of rules made by the other player, and he managed with a good grace:

‘I don’t quite see what you mean I’m always considering machines. Have been .since I was so high, but certainly not the kind that ‘

Joan shook her head. ‘No, I put it badly. I don’t mean the machine we were talking about, nor any particular machine. I was thinking of The Machine, considered as a force in the world.’

‘In fact, the genus machina,’ suggested the doctor.

‘Exactly.’ Joan nodded emphatically, and then smoothed back the hair which had become suspended in front of her face. Dale’s expression cleared.

‘Oh, I see. But it’s rather a large and difficult question to answer offhand. I don’t seem to see it like that. Being used to them and always among them, I tend to think of machines or machinery, but hardly ever of The Machine. You see, ever since I was little I’ve been happiest when I was with machinery; it’s been a great part of my life. I’ve known the feel of so many machines, and they’ve all been different. I can’t get outside, as it were, and see the whole range of machines as one class. But I know what you mean, up to a point, because my wife not only can, but frequently does, see The Machine like that. It’s one of the points where we’ve never had anything in common.

‘You see, I couldn’t do without machines I don’t just mean that I should starve if all machines were broken, that’s obvious: about eighty percent of the world would starve, too. I mean that they seem to be essential to something in me. A pianist losing his fingers would lose no more than I should if I were entirely deprived of them. They are a great part to me, the essential part of the world I grew up in.

‘There is use and abuse of machinery as there is of everything else, but when you talk of The Machine, you are seeing it from an angle that I don’t know. I think that my wife would understand you better than I do. She quite certainly thinks of The Machine almost as a personification, and she hates it and fears it. Or rather, she hates it because she fears it, and she fears it because she doesn’t understand it. The completely primitive attitude savages are afraid of thunderstorms for the same reason. But she goes further, she is determined not to understand it: even while she lives by it, she tries to pretend to herself that the need for it does not exist and that mankind would be altogether happier and better without machinery. Two minutes’ honest thought would reduce the whole attitude to an absurdity in her own eyes, but it seems to be a subject on which she is incapable of a second’s honest thought again, to me, a curiously primitive trait in an otherwise highly civilized person. When one examines her attitude dispassionately, one finds that it has a great deal in common with that of a native who will not examine the nature of his most inimical gods for fear of bringing their wrath down on his head. He ignores them as much as possible to avoid rousing his own fear of them. There must have been something of the kind in Mary Shelley’s mind when she conceived that Frankenstein story. I am sure that The Machine is a kind of Frankenstein’s Monster in my wife’s mind. It is as though the superstition which has been scraped off natural phenomena had attached itself to machinery instead, as far as she is concerned.’ He paused as though a new thought had just struck him. ‘Yes, that’s what it is. Her attitude to machines is rankly superstitious. It sounds rather ridiculous to you, I suppose. But if you could hear her talk about them, I think you’d understand what I mean.’

‘I understand you perfectly,’ the doctor assured him. ‘One’s met it so often in women of quite different types and in a few men, too, of course, but comparatively rarely. If it only occurred in the backward types (where it is almost inevitable), it would be easier to understand. I mean the unintelligent, stupid woman of the domestic class who is afraid of a vacuum cleaner or of a telephone doesn’t surprise one, but the intelligent woman who uses these things and other small machines regularly will frequently refuse to understand how they or her car or her gyrocurt work, and will maintain at the back of her mind the same attitude as the stupid woman. It is this refusal to learn which is so puzzling. It is possible that a small, almost negligible class may do it with the deliberate idea of encouraging male pride by their own apparent helplessness, and in a few it may be due to sheer mental laziness but why should so many otherwise mentally active women choose to be lazy on this particular subject? Somewhere and somehow connected with the idea of machinery there arises this curious inhibition.’

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