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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 23)     
  • That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3)(23) by C.S.Lewis
  • They could all, in principle, be produced by injections. In so far as there must be social feelings between members of the circle it is, perhaps, better that they should be feelings of dislike. There is less risk of their being confused with the real nexus."

    "The circle?" said Studdock, acting a tremulous eagerness. But it was perilously easy for him to act it.

    "Yes," said Frost. "You have been selected as a possible candidate for admission. If you do not gain admission, or if you reject it, it will be necessary to destroy you."

    " it-it seems rather a formidable decision," said Mark.

    "That is merely a proposition about the state of your own body at the moment. If you please, I will go on to give you the necessary information. I must begin by telling you that neither the Deputy Director nor I are responsible for shaping the policy of the Institute."

    "The Head?" said Mark.

    "No. Filostrato and Wilkins are quite deceived about the Head. They have, indeed, carried out a remarkable experiment. But Alcasan's mind is not the mind we are in contact with when the Head speaks."

    "Do you mean Alcasan is really . . . dead?"

    "In the present state of our knowledge," said Frost, " that question has no meaning. But the cortex and vocal organs in Alcasan's head are used by a different mind. And now, attend carefully. You have probably not heard of macrobes."

    "Microbes?" said Mark in bewilderment. "But of course--"

    "I did not say microbes, I said macrobes. The formation of the word explains itself. Below the level of animal life we have long known that there are microscopic organisms. Their actual results on human life have, of course, made up a large part of history."

    "Go on," said Mark. Ravenous curiosity was moving beneath his conscious determination to stand on guard.

    "I have now to inform you that there are similar organisms above the level of animal life. When I say ' above' I am not speaking biologically. I mean that they are more permanent, dispose of more energy, and have greater intelligence."

    "They must be pretty nearly human, then."

    "You have misunderstood me. When I said they transcended the animals, I was including the most efficient animal, Man. The macrobe is more intelligent than Man."

    "But how is it in that case that we have had no communication with them?"

    "It is not certain that we have not. But in primitive times it was opposed by prejudice. But though there has been little intercourse, there has been profound influence. Their effect on human history has been greater than that of the microbes, though equally unrecognised. The real causes of all the principal events are quite unknown to the historians."

    "I think I'll sit down, if you don't mind," said Mark, resuming his seat on the floor.

    "The vocal organs and brain taken from Alcasan," Frost continued, " have become the conductors of a regular intercourse between the macrobes and our own species. The circle to which you may be admitted is the organ of that co-operation between the two species which has created a new situation for humanity. The change is far greater than that which turned the sub-man into the man."

    "These organisms, then," said Mark, "are friendly to humanity?"

    "Friendship is a chemical phenomenon; so is hatred. Both of them presupposes organisms of our own type."

    "I didn't mean ' friendly ' in that sense. I meant, were their aims compatible with our own?"

    "What do you mean by our own aims?"

    "Well-I suppose-the scientific reconstruction of the human race-the elimination of war and poverty-a fuller exploitation of nature-the preservation and extension of our species, in fact."

    "I do not think this pseudo-scientific language really modifies the essentially subjective and instinctive basis of the ethics you are describing."

    "Surely," said Mark, " one requires a large population for the full exploitation of nature, if for nothing else ? And surely war is disgenic and reduces efficiency?"

    "That idea is a survival from conditions which are rapidly being altered. A few centuries ago, a large agricultural population was essential; and war destroyed types which were then useful. But every advance in industry and agriculture reduces the number of work-people required. A large, unintelligent population is now a dead-weight. The importance of scientific war is that scientists have to be reserved. It was not the great technocrats of Koenigsberg or Moscow who supplied the casualties in the siege of Stalingrad. The effect of modern war is to eliminate retrogressive types, while sparing the technocracy and increasing its hold upon public affairs. In the new age, what has hitherto been merely the intellectual nucleus of the race is to become, by gradual stages, the race itself. You are to conceive the species as an animal which has discovered how to simplify nutrition and locomotion to such a point that the old complex organs and the large body which contained them are no longer necessary. The masses are therefore to disappear. The body is to become all head. The human race is to become all Technocracy."

    "I see," said Mark. "I had thought that the intelligent nucleus would be extended by education."

    "That is a pure chimera. The great majority of the human race cannot be educated. Even if they could, the day for a large population has passed. It has served its function as a kind of cocoon for Technocratic and Objective Man. Now, the macrobes, and the selected humans who co-operate with them, have no further use for it."

    "The last two wars, then, were not disasters in your view?

    "On the contrary, they were simply the first two of the sixteen major wars which are scheduled to take place in this century."

    Mark sat with his eyes fixed on the floor. He was occupied with the conflict between his resolution not to trust these men, and the terrible strength of an opposite emotion. For here, here surely at last (so his desire whispered him) was the true inner circle of all, the circle whose centre was outside the human race-the ultimate secret, the supreme power, the last initiation. The fact that it was almost completely horrible did not in the least diminish its attraction. Nothing that lacked the tang of horror would have been quite strong enough to satisfy the delirious excitement which now set his temples hammering.

    A knocking which had been obscurely audible for some time now became so loud that Frost turned to the door. "Go away," he said, raising his voice. "What is the meaning of this impertinence?" The noise of someone shouting was heard, and the knocking went on. Frost's smile widened as he turned and opened the door. Instantly a piece of paper was put into his hand. As he read it, he started violently. Without glancing at Mark, he left the cell. Mark heard the door locked behind him.

    "What friends those two are!" said Ivy Maggs. She was referring to Pinch the cat and Mr. Bultitude the bear. The latter was sitting up with his back against the warm wall by the kitchen fire. The cat, after walking to and fro with erected tail and rubbing herself against his belly, had finally curled up and gone to sleep between his legs.

    Mrs. Dimble, who sat farther back in the kitchen, darning as if for dear life, pursed her lips a little as Ivy Maggs spoke. She could not go to bed. She wished they would all keep quiet.

    "When we use the word Friends of those two creatures," said MacPhee, "I doubt we are being merely anthropomorphic. There's no evidence for it."

    "What's she go making up to him for, then?" asked Ivy.

    "Well," said MacPhee, "maybe there'd be a desire for warmth-she's away in out of the draught there. And likely enough some obscure transferred sexual impulses."

    "Really, Mr. MacPhee," said Ivy with great indignation. "To say those things about two dumb animals! I'm sure I never did see Pinch--"

    "I said transferred," interrupted MacPhee dryly. "And anyway, they like the friction as a means of rectifying irritations set up by parasites. Now, you'll observe--"

    "If you mean they have fleas," said Ivy, " you know as well as anyone they have no such thing."

    "What do you think, sir?" added Ivy, looking at the Director.

    "Me?" said Ransom. "I think MacPhee is introducing into animal life a distinction that doesn't exist there, and then trying to determine on which side of that distinction the feelings of Pinch and Bultitude fall. You've got to become human before physical cravings are distinguishable from affections-as you have to become spiritual before affections are distinguishable from charity. What is going on in them isn't one or other of these things: it is one of Barfield's ' ancient unities '."

    Mrs. Dimble leaned her head towards Camilla and said in a whisper, "I do wish Mr. MacPhee could be persuaded to go to bed. It's perfectly unbearable at a time like this."

    "Was that only the wind?" said Grace Ironwood.

    "It sounded to me like a horse," said Mrs. Dimble.

    "Here," said MacPhee jumping up. "Get out of the way, Mr. Bultitude, till I get my gum boots. It'll be those two horses of Broad's again, tramping all over my celery. Why the man can't keep them shut up . . ." he was bundling himself into his mackintosh as he spoke.

    "My crutch, please, Camilla," said Ransom. "Come back, MacPhee. We will go to the door together, you and I. Ladies, stay where you are."

    There was a look on his face which some of those present had not seen before. A moment later Ransom and MacPhee stood alone in the scullery. The back door was so shaking with the wind that they did not know whether someone were knocking or not.

    "Now," said Ransom, " open it."

    For a second MacPhee worked with the bolts. Then the storm flung the door against the wall and he was momentarily pinned behind it. Ransom, leaning forward on his crutch, saw in the light from the scullery, outlined against the blackness, a huge horse, all in a lather of sweat and foam, its yellow teeth laid bare, its ears flattened against its skull, and its eyes flaming. It had neither saddle, stirrup, nor bridle; but at that very moment a man leapt off its back. He seemed both very tall and very fat, almost a giant. His reddish-grey hair and beard were blown all about his face so that it was hardly visible; and it was only after he had taken a step forward that Ransom noticed his clothes-the ragged, ill-fitting khaki coat, baggy trousers, and boots that had lost the toes.

    In a great room at Belbury, where the fire blazed and wine and silver sparkled on side-tables, and a great bed occupied the centre of the floor, the Deputy Director watched while four men carried in a burden on a stretcher. As they removed the blankets and transferred the occupant of the stretcher to the bed, Wither's interest became intense. What he saw was a na**d human body, alive, but apparently unconscious. He ordered the attendants to place hot-water bottles at its feet and raise the head with pillows; when they had withdrawn he drew a chair to the foot of the bed and sat down to study the face of the sleeper. The head was very large, though perhaps it looked larger than it was because of the unkempt beard and the tangled grey hair. For a quarter of an hour he sat thus: then the door opened and Professor Frost came in.

    He walked to the bedside, bent down and looked closely into the stranger's face.

    "Is he asleep?" whispered Wither. "I think not. It is more like some kind of trance."

    "You have no doubts, I trust?"

    "Where did they find him?"

    "Quarter of a mile from the entrance to the souterrain. They had the track of bare feet almost all the way."

    "You will make provision about Stone?"

    "Yes. But what do you think?"-he pointed with his eyes to the bed.

    "I think it is he," said Frost. "The place is right. The nudity is hard to account for on any other hypothesis. The skull is the kind I expected."

    "But the face?"

    "Yes. There are certain traits which are a little disquieting."

    "I could have sworn," said Wither, " that I knew the look of a Master-even the look of one who could be made into a Master. You understand me . . . one sees at once that Straik or Studdock might do; that Miss Hardcastle, with all her excellent qualities, would not."

    "Yes. Perhaps we must be prepared for great crudities in ... him. Who knows what the technique of the Atlantean Circle was really like?"

    "Certainly, one must not be-ah-narrow-minded. One can suppose that the Masters of that age were not quite so sharply divided from the common people as we are. All sorts of emotional, and even instinctive, elements were perhaps still tolerated in the Great Atlantean which we have had to discard."

    Instead of replying. Frost signalled to his companion. The Sleeper had opened his eyes.

    As the seconds passed Wither's main impression of the face was its caution. But there was nothing intense or uneasy about it. It had an habitual, unemphatic defensiveness.

    Wither rose to his feet, and cleared his throat.

    "Magister Merline," he said, "Sapienlissime Britonum, secreti secretorum possessor, incredibili quodam gaudio afficimur quod te domum nostrum accipere nobis-ah-contingit. Scito nos etiam haud imperitos esse magnae artis-et-ut ita dicam . . ."

    But his voice died away. It was too obvious that the Sleeper was taking no notice of what he said. Was there, then, some error in his own pronunciation ? But he felt by no means sure that this man could not understand him. The total lack of interest in his face suggested rather that he was not listening.

    Frost took a decanter from the table and poured out a glass of red wine. He then returned to the bedside, bowed deeply, and handed it to the stranger. The latter sat up in bed, revealing a huge hairy chest and lean, muscular arms. His eyes turned to the table and he pointed. Frost went back to it and touched a different decanter. The stranger shook his head and pointed again.

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