Stowaway to Mars by John Wyndham

‘But so were ours, weren’t they?’

‘Well, were they? I learned quite a lot of your history when I looked into your mind last night, and it seemed to me that they were not. Machines have come early into your race history. They were not necessary. They were thrust suddenly upon a race with no great problems, a race, moreover, so primitive that it was still is still full of superstition. We did not invent the machine until it was necessary for our survival. You invented the machine and caused it to be necessary for your survival. It saved us, but you thrust it upon a world not yet ready it, and you have failed to adapt to it.’

‘But we have changed. We’ve changed enormously. Our whole outlook is utterly different from that of our great grandfathers and even of our grandfathers. We recognize that in the modern world one must move with the times.’

‘You have changed, perhaps, but very little and that under continual protest. In you, and I take it that you are typical of your race, the sentimental resistance to change is immense.’ He paused, looking at her with a slight frown. ‘On Mars,’ he continued, ‘man has been the most adaptable of all the animal creations.’

‘And on Earth,’ she put in.

‘I wonder? It seems to me that your race may be in grave danger almost as if you may be losing the power to adapt. Man’s rise and his survival depend on his adaptability. It was because the old masters of the world could not adapt that they lost their mastery. New conditions defeated them. You have created new conditions, but you have scarcely disturbed your ways of living to suit them. It is little wonder to me that you fear the Machine. Even while you use it you try to live the lives of craftsmen. You resent the change because you know subconsciously, and will not admit openly, that it means an utter break with the past. A new force has come into your world which makes an end inevitable. Which is it to be an dof your system of life; or of your system and yourselves together?’

Joan looked puzzled. ‘But do you mean that all tradition is to be thrown aside? Why, you talked just now of your own glorious past.’

‘Tradition is a useful weed for binding the soil, but it grows too thickly and chokes the rest. Periodically it must be burned out. Consider where you would be now if the traditions of your ancient races had not been destroyed from time to time.’

She was silent a while, looking back at the practices of earlier civilizations. Human sacrifice, enslavement, cannibalism, religious prostitution, trial by ordeal, exposure of girl children and plenty more of them, all honourable customs at some age. Most of them had been burnt out, as Vaygan put it, in the west, at any rate. Others were due to be dropped: war, execution, gold fetishism . . .

‘It is not sensible to use only one eye when one has the power to focus with two,’ Vaygan said. ‘The problems you have raised will have to be examined with your whole intelligence, they cannot be left to solve themselves.’

‘Did your people face them once?’ she asked.

‘With us it was different. Our machines put order into a disorganized world. Yours have done the opposite.’

‘I think I see. But what are these queer machines of yours? They’re nothing like ours. They seem to think for themselves.’

‘Why should they not?’

‘I don’t know, except that it seems fantastic to me. It was the theme of those tales I told you about and I find it rather frightening. Do your machines rule you, or do you rule them?’

Vaygan was first puzzled and then amused.

‘You are determined to assume an antagonism between machines and men. You don’t understand them. It’s your persistent mishandling of them that makes you afraid of them. Why should there be antagonism? There was a time when we could not exist without them nor they without us, and now, though that no longer holds, the collaboration continues. Doubtless if they wished they could make an end of us today, but why should they? We are doomed inevitably: they will go on.’

‘You mean that they will survive you?’ Joan asked incredulously.

‘Certainly they will survive. I think that if you were to dig down deeply into our real motives you would find that the chief reason why we have not committed suicide or died out already from discouragement at the futility of existence is our faith in the machines. For many thousands of years we have fought Nature and held our own, but at last she has the upper hand. She is sweeping us away as she has swept the rest on to her huge rubbish heap where the bones of the dinosaurs moulder on the fossils of a million ages. What has been the good of us? Nothing, it seems, and yet . . . our minds will not accept that. There lingers, perhaps illogically, the idea of a purpose behind it all … . But physically we can go on no longer.

‘For any other species of animal it would mean utter extinction, but we have what the other animals have never had mind. That is our last trick. Our minds will not die yet. The machines are as truly the children of our minds as you are the child of your mother’s body. They are the next step in evolution, we hand over to them.’

‘Evolution! But evolution is a gradual modification. It is impossible to evolve from flesh to metal.’

‘You think so? Because hitherto it has been so? But you overlook the factor which never was in evolution until we came mind, again: the greatest factor of all, and it is producing the greatest mutation of all.’

Joan objected. ‘But what is a machine? Why should it go on? It’s not alive, it has no soul, it can’t love. Why should a collection of metal parts go on?’

‘Why should a collection of chemical parts go on? You do not understand our machines. The stuff of life is in them as it is in you. A slightly different form of life, perhaps, but you tend to judge too much by appearances. After all, if a man is equipped with four artificial limbs of metal, if he needs glasses to see with, instruments to hear with and false teeth to eat with, he is still alive. So there is life of a kind in the machines’ casings. That their frames are of metal and not of calcium is neither here nor there.

‘And as for love … Does an amoeba love? Do fish love? But they go on they reproduce. Love is just our particular mechanism for continuation; the fish have another; the machines yet another.’

‘A machine with the urge to reproduce l ‘ Joan could not keep the scoffing note out of her voice.

‘Why not?’

‘But it is metal not flesh and blood.’

‘A tree is wood, but it reproduces. Continuity has a deeper cause than the call of flesh to flesh if it were not so, our race would long ago have declined the discomforts of breeding. It is the will to power which leads us love is its very humble servant.’

‘And your machines have this will to power?’

‘Can you doubt it? Consider the inexorability of machines; add intelligence to that and what can withstand their will?’

Joan shrugged her shoulders. She said, with hesitation:

‘I can’t really understand. Our machines are so very different. The bare idea of an intelligent machine is difficult for me to grasp.’

‘You have discovered the machine so lately you have no broad idea yet of what you have found.’

‘We have got far enough to build a machine which could bring us here ‘

She stopped abruptly. For these hours she had completely forgotten her companions of the Gloria Mundi. She had last seen them standing disarmed beside the great canal while Burns led her away. She wondered with a rush of remorseful anxiety how they had fared; whether they, too, had fallen victims to the things that moved in the bushes. Turning to Vaygan again she asked not very hopefully if he had news of them. He smiled at her tone.

‘Certainly. I will show them to you if you like.’

‘Show me?’

He turned a switch on the board beside her. One of the grey panels shone translucently. The scene was blurred, but as he worked the controls it cleared, steadied and focused. One seemed to be looking down on desert, scrub and a part of the canal from a great height. In one corner of the screen there gleamed a small silvery bullet shape. He made another adjustment. With a dizzying effect, as though she were falling towards it, Joan watched the rocket enlarge until it filled the whole screen. She frowned a little; it looked wrong somehow perhaps an odd effect of perspective? Vaygan manipulated his instrument to give a view as of one walking slowly round the ship. Joan grew more puzzled, but not until they had, in effect, rounded the nose did she speak.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41

Categories: Wyndham, John