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Littlejohn 2065







From: The Crowded Earth

The helicopter landed on the roof, and the attendants wheeled it over
to one side. They propped the ladder up, and Littlejohn descended
slowly, panting.

They had a coasterchair waiting and he sank into it, grateful for the
rest. Hardy fellows, these attendants, but then they were almost three
feet tall. More stamina, that was the secret. Common stock, of course,
but they served a purpose. Somebody had to carry out orders.

When they wheeled the coasterchair into the elevator, Littlejohn
descended. The elevator halted on the first floor and he breathed a
sigh of relief. Great heights always made him faint and dizzy, and
even a short helicopter trip took its toll--the mere thought of
soaring two hundred feet above the ground was enough to paralyze him.

But this journey was vital. Thurmon was waiting for him.

Yes, Thurmon was waiting for him here in the council chamber. The
coasterchair rolled forward into the room and again Littlejohn felt a
twinge of apprehension. The room was vast--too big for comfort. It
must be all of fifty feet long, and over ten feet in height. How could
Thurmon stand it, working here?

But he had to endure it, Littlejohn reminded himself. He was head of
the council.

Thurmon was lying on the couch when Littlejohn rolled in, but he sat
up and smiled.

"I greet you," he said.

"I greet you," Littlejohn answered. "No, don't bother to stay seated.
Surely we don't need to be ceremonious."

Thurmon pricked up his ears at the sound of the unfamiliar word. He
wasn't the scholarly type, like Littlejohn. But he appreciated
Littlejohn's learning and knew he was important to the council. They
needed scholars these days, and antiquarians too. One has to look to
the past when rebuilding a world.

"You sent for me?" Littlejohn asked. The question was purely
rhetorical, but he wanted to break the silence. Thurmon looked
troubled as he replied.

"Yes. It is a matter of confidence between us."

"So be it. You may speak in trust."

Thurmon eyed the door. "Come nearer," he said.

Littlejohn pressed a lever and rolled up to the couchside. Thurmon's
eyes peered at him through the thick contact lenses. Littlejohn noted
the deep wrinkles around his mouth, but without surprise. After all,
Thurmon was an old man--he must be over thirty.

"I have been thinking," Thurmon said, abruptly. "We have failed."

"Failed?"

Thurmon nodded. "Need I explain? You have been close to the council
for many years. You have seen what we've attempted, ever since the
close of the Naturalist wars."

"A magnificent effort," Littlejohn answered politely. "In less than
thirty years an entire new world has risen from the ruins of the old.
Civilization has been restored, snatched from the very brink of a
barbarism that threatened to engulf us."

"Nonsense," Thurmon murmured.

"What?"

"Sheer nonsense, Littlejohn. You're talking like a pedant."

"But I am a pedant." Littlejohn nodded. "And it's true. When the
Naturalists were exterminated, this nation and other nations were
literally destroyed. Worse than physical destruction was the threat of
mental and moral collapse. But the Yardstick councils arose to take
over. The concept of small government came into being and saved us. We
began to rebuild on a sensible scale, with local, limited control. The
little community arose--"

"Spare me the history lesson," said Thurmon, dryly. "We rebuilt, yes.
We survived. In a sense, perhaps, we even made certain advances. There
is no longer any economic rivalry, no social distinctions, no external
pressure. I think I can safely assume that the danger of future
warfare is forever banished. The balance of power is no longer a
factor. The balance of Nature has been partially restored. And only
one problem remains to plague mankind."

"What is that?"

"We face extinction," Thurmon said.

"But that's not true," Littlejohn interrupted. "Look at history and--"

"Look at us." Thurmon sighed. "You needn't bother with history. The
answer is written in our faces, in our own bodies. I've searched the
past very little, compared to your scholarship, but enough to know
that things were different in the old days. The Naturalists, whatever
else they might have been, were strong men. They walked freely in the
land, they lived lustily and long.

"Do you know what our average life-expectancy is today, Littlejohn? A
shade under forty years. And that only if one is fortunate enough to
lead a sheltered existence, as we do. In the mines, in the fields, in
the radioactive areas, they die before the age of thirty."

Littlejohn leaned forward. "Schuyler touches on just that point in his
Psychology of Time," he said, eagerly. "He posits the relationship
between size and duration. Time is relative, you know. Our lives,
short as they may be in terms of comparative chronology, nevertheless
have a subjective span equal to that of the Naturalists in their
heyday."

"Nonsense," Thurman said, again. "Did you think that is what concerns
me--whether or not we feel that our lives are long or short?"

"What then?"

"I'm talking about the basic elements essential to survival. I'm
talking about strength, stamina, endurance, the ability to function.
That's what we're losing, along with the normal span of years. The
world is soft and flabby. Yardstick children, they tell us, were
healthy at first. But their children are weaker. And their
grandchildren, weaker still. The effect of the wars, the ravages of
radiation and malnutrition, have taken a terrible toll. The world is
soft and flabby today. People can't walk any more, let alone run. We
find it difficult to lift and bend and work--"

"But we won't have to worry about such matters for long," Littlejohn
hazarded. "Think of what's being done in robotics. Those recent
experiments seem to prove--"

"I know." Thurmon nodded. "We can create robots, no doubt. We have a
limited amount of raw materials to allocate to the project, and if we
can perfect automatons they'll function quite adequately. Virtually
indestructible, too, I understand. I imagine they'll still be able to
operate efficiently a hundred or more years from now--if only they
learn to oil and repair one another. Because by that time, the human
race will be gone."

"Come now, it isn't that serious--"

"Oh, but it is!" Thurmon raised himself again, with an effort. "Your
study of history should have taught you one thing, if nothing else.
The tempo is quickening. While it took mankind thousands of years to
move from the bow and arrow to the rifle, it took only a few hundred
to move from the rifle to the thermonuclear weapon. It took ages
before men mastered flight, and then in two generations they developed
satellites; in three, they reached the moon and Mars."

"But we're talking about physical development."

"I know. And physically, the human race altered just as drastically in
an equally short span of time. As recently as the nineteenth century,
the incidence of disease was a thousandfold greater than it is now.
Life was short then. In the twentieth century disease lessened and
life-expectancy doubled, in certain areas. Height and weight increased
perceptibly with every passing decade. Then came Leffingwell and his
injections. Height, weight, life-expectancy have fallen perceptibly
every decade since then. The war merely hastened the process."

"You appear to have devoted a great deal of time to this question,"
Littlejohn observed.

"I have," answered the older man. "And it is not a question. It is a
fact. The one fact that confronts us all. If we proceed along our
present path, we face certain extinction in a very short time. The
strain is weakening constantly, the vitality is draining away. We
sought to defeat Nature--but the Naturalists were right, in their
way."

"And the solution?"

Thurmon was silent for a long moment. Then, "I have none," he said.

"You have consulted the medical authorities?"

"Naturally. And experiments have been made. Physical conditioning,
systems of exercise, experimentation in chemotherapy are still being
undertaken. There's no lack of volunteers, but a great lack of
results. No, the answer does not lie in that direction."

"But what else is there?"

"That is what I had hoped you might tell me," Thurmon said. "You are a
scholar. You know the past. You speak often of the lessons of
history--"

Littlejohn was nodding, but not in agreement. He was trying to
comprehend. For suddenly the conviction came to him clearly; Thurmon
was right. It was happening, had happened, right under their smug
noses. The world was weakening. It was slowing down, and the race is
only to the swift.

He cursed himself for his habit of thinking in platitudes and
quotations, but long years of study had unfitted him for less prosaic
phraseology. If he could only be practical.

Practical.

"Thurmon," he said. "There is a way. A way so obvious, we've all
overlooked it--passed right over it."

"And that is--?"

"Stop the Leffingwell injections!"

"But--"

"I know what you'll say. There have been genetic mutations. Very true,
but such mutations can't be universal. A certain percentage of
offspring will be sound, capable of attaining full growth. And we
don't have the population-problem to cope with any more. There's room
for people again. So why not try it? Stop the injections and allow
babies to be born as they were before." Littlejohn hesitated before
adding a final word, but he knew he had to add it; he knew it now.
"Normally," he said.

Thurmon nodded. "So that is your answer."

"Yes. I--I think it will work."

"So do the biologists," Thurmon told him. "A generation of normal
infants, reared to maturity, would restore mankind to its former
stature, in every sense of the word. And now, knowing the lessons of
the past, we could prepare for the change to come. We could rebuild
the world for them to live in, rebuild it psychically as well as
physically. We'd plan to eliminate the rivalry between the large and
the small, the strong and the weak. It wouldn't be difficult because
there's plenty for all. There'd be no trouble as there was in the old
days. We've learned to be psychologically flexible."

Littlejohn smiled. "Then that is the solution?" he asked.

"Yes. Eliminating the Leffingwell injections will give us a good
proportion of normal children again. But where do we find the normal
women to bear them?"

"Normal women?"

Thurmon sighed, then reached over and placed a scroll in the scanner.
"I have already gone into that question with research technicians," he
said. "And I have the figures here." He switched on the scanner and
began to read.

"The average nubile female, aged thirteen to twenty-one, is two feet,
ten inches high and weighs forty-eight pounds." Thurmon flicked the
switch again and peered up. "I don't think I'll bother with pelvic
measurements," he said. "You can already see that giving birth to a
six or seven-pound infant is a physical impossibility under the
circumstances. It cannot be done."

"But surely there must be some larger females! Perhaps a system of
selective breeding, on a gradual basis--"

"You're talking in terms of generations. We haven't got that much
time." Thurmon shook his head. "No, we're stopped right here. We can't
get normal babies without normal women, and the only normal women are
those who began life as normal babies."

"Which comes first?" Littlejohn murmured. "The chicken or the egg?"

"What's that?"

"Nothing. Just an old saying. From history."

Thurmon frowned. "Apparently, then, that's all you can offer in your
professional capacity as an historian. Just some old sayings." He
sighed. "Too bad you don't know some old prayers. Because we need them
now."

He bowed his head, signifying the end of the interview.

Littlejohn rolled out of the room.

His 'copter took him back to his own dwelling, back across the
rooftops of New Chicagee. Ordinarily, Littlejohn avoided looking down.
He dreaded heights, and the immensity of the city itself was somehow
appalling. But now he gazed upon the capital and center of
civilization with a certain morbid affection.

New Chicagee had risen on the ashes of the old, after the war's end.
Use of thermo-nucs had been limited, fortunately, so radioactivity did
not linger, and the vast craters hollowed out by ordinary warheads had
been partially filled by rubble and debris. Artificial fill had done
the rest of the job, so that now New Chicagee was merely a flat
prairie as it must have been hundreds of years ago--a flat prairie on
which the city had been resurrected. There were almost fifty thousand
people here in the capital; the largest congregation of population on
the entire continent. They had built well and surely this time, built
for the security and certainty of centuries to come.

Littlejohn sighed. It was hard to accept the fact that they had been
wrong; that all this would end in nothingness. They had eliminated
war, eliminated disease, eliminated famine, eliminated social
inequality, injustice, disorders external and internal--and in so
doing, they had eliminated themselves.

The sun was setting in the west, and long shadows crept over the city
below. Yes, the sun was setting and the shadows were gathering, the
night was coming to claim its own. Darkness was falling, eternal
darkness.

It was quite dark by the time Littlejohn's 'copter landed on the
rooftop of his own dwelling; so dark, in fact, that for a moment he
didn't see the strange vehicle already standing there. Not until he
had settled into his coasterchair did he notice the presence of the
other 'copter, and then it was too late. Too late to do anything
except sit and stare as the gigantic shadow loomed out of the night,
silhouetted against the sky.

The shadow shambled forward, and Littlejohn gaped, gaped in terror at
the titanic figure. He opened his mouth to speak, but words did not
form; there were no words to form, for how does one address an
apparition?

Instead, it was the apparition which spoke.

"I have been waiting for you," it said.

"Y-yes--"

"I want to talk to you." The voice was deep, menacing.

Littlejohn shifted in his coasterchair. There was nowhere to go, no
escape. He gazed up at the shadow. Finally he summoned a response.
"Shall we go inside?" he asked.

The figure shook its head. "Where? Down into that dollhouse of yours?
It isn't big enough. I've already been there. What I have to say can
be said right here."

"W-who are you?"

The figure stepped forward, so that its face was illuminated by the
fluorescence streaming from the open door which led to the inclined
chairway descending to Littlejohn's dwelling.

Littlejohn could see the face, now--the gigantic, wrinkled face,
scarred and seared and seamed. It was a human face, but utterly alien
to the humanity Littlejohn knew. Faces such as this one had
disappeared from the earth a lifetime ago. At least, history had
taught him that. History had not prepared him for the actual living
presence of a--

"Naturalist!" Littlejohn gasped. "You're a Naturalist! Yes, that's
what you are!"

The apparition scowled.

"I am not a Naturalist. I am a man."

"But you can't be! The war--"

"I am very old. I lived through your war. I have lived through your
peace. Soon I shall die. But before I do, there is something else
which must be done."

"You've come here to kill me?"

"Perhaps." The looming figure moved closer and stared down. "No, don't
try to summon help. When your servants saw me, they fled. You're alone
now, Littlejohn."

"You know my name."

"Yes, I know your name. I know the names of everyone on the council.
Each of them has a visitor tonight."

"Then it is a plot, a conspiracy?"

"We have planned this very carefully, through the long years. It's all
we lived for, those few of us who survived the war."

"But the council wasn't responsible for the war! Most of us weren't
even alive, then. Believe me, we weren't to blame--"

"I know." The gigantic face creased in senile simulation of a smile.
"Nobody was ever to blame for anything, nobody was ever responsible.
That's what they always told me. I mustn't hate mankind for
multiplying, even though population created pressure and pressure
created panic that drove me mad. I mustn't blame Leffingwell for
solving the overpopulation problem, even though he used me as a
guinea-pig in his experiments. I mustn't blame the Yardsticks for
penning me up in prison until revolution broke out, and I mustn't
blame the Naturalists for bombing the place where I took refuge. So
whose fault was it that I've gone through eighty years of assorted
hell? Why did I, Harry Collins, get singled out for a lifetime of
misery and misfortune?" The huge old man bent over Littlejohn's
huddled form. "Maybe it was all a means to an end. A way of bringing
me here, at this moment, to do what must be done."

"Don't harm me--you're not well, you're--"

"Crazy?" The old man shook his head. "No, I'm not crazy. Not now. But
I have been, at times, during my life. Perhaps we all are, when we
attempt to face up to the complications of an average existence, try
to confront the problems which are too big for a single consciousness
to cope with in a single life-span. I've been crazy in the city, and
crazy in the isolation of a cell, and crazy in the welter of war. And
perhaps the worst time of all was when I lost my son.

"Yes, I had a son, Littlejohn. He was one of the first, one of
Leffingwell's original mutations, and I never knew him very well until
the revolution came and we went away together. He was a doctor, my
boy, and a good one. We spent almost five years together and I learned
a lot from him. About medicine, but that wasn't important then. I'm
thinking of what I learned about love. I'd always hated Yardsticks,
but my son was one, and I came to love him. He had plans for
rebuilding the world, he and I and the rest of us. We were going to
wait until the revolution ended and then help restore sanity in
civilization.

"But the Naturalists flew over and dropped their bomb, and my boy
died. Over four hundred of our group died there in the canyon--four
hundred who might have changed the fate of the world. Do you think I
can forget that? Do you think I and the few others who survived have
ever forgotten? Can you blame us if we did go crazy? If we hid away
out there in the western wilderness, hid away from a world that had
offered us nothing but death and destruction, and plotted to bring
death and destruction to that world in return?

"Think about it for a moment, Littlejohn. We were old men, all of us,
and the world had given us only its misery to bear during our
lifetimes. The world we wanted to save was destroying itself; why
should we be concerned with its fate or future?

"So we changed our plans, Littlejohn. Perhaps the shock had been too
much. Instead of plotting to rebuild the world, we turned our thoughts
to completing its destruction. Our tools and texts were gone, buried
in the rubble with the bodies of fine young men. But we had our minds.
Crazed minds, you'd call them--but aware of reality. The grim reality
of the post-revolutionary years.

"We burrowed away in the desert. We schemed and we dreamed. From time
to time we sent out spies. We knew what was going on. We knew the
Naturalists were gone, that six-footers had vanished from a Yardstick
world. We knew about the rehabilitation projects. We watched your
people gradually evolve new patterns of living and learning. Some of
the former knowledge was rescued, but not all. Our little group had
far more learning than you've ever dreamed of. Fifty of us, between
ourselves, could have surpassed all your scientists in every field.

"But we watched, and we waited. And some of us died of privation and
some of us died of old age. Until, at last, there were only a dozen of
us to share the dream. The dream of destruction. And we knew that we
must act swiftly, or not at all.

"So we came into the world, cautiously and carefully, moving
unobtrusively and unobserved. We wanted to contemplate the corruption,
seek out the weaknesses in your degenerate civilization. And we found
them, immediately. Those weaknesses are everywhere apparent, for they
are physical. You're one of a dying race, Littlejohn. Mankind's days
are numbered. There's no need for grandiose schemes of reactivating
warheads in buried missile-centers, of loosing thermo-nucs upon the
world. Merely by killing off the central council here in New Chicagee,
we can accomplish our objective. A dozen men die, and there's not
enough initiative left to replace them. It's as simple as that. And as
complicated."

Harry Collins nodded. "Yes, as complicated. Because the only
weaknesses we've observed are physical ones. We've seen enough of
the ways of this new civilization to realize that.

"All of the things I hated during my lifetime have disappeared
now--the crowding, the competition, the sordid self-interest, the
bigotry, intolerance, prejudice. The anti-social aspects of society
are gone. There is only the human race, living much closer to the
concept of Utopia than I ever dreamed possible. You and the other
survivors have done well, Littlejohn."

"And yet you come to kill us."

"We came for that purpose. Because we still retained the flaws and
failings of our former cultures. We looked for targets to blame, for
villains to hate and destroy. Instead, we found this reality.

"No, I'm not crazy, Littlejohn. And I and my fellows aren't here to
execute revenge. We have returned to the original plan; the plan
Leffingwell had, and my son, and all the others who worked in their
own way for their dream of a better world. We come now to help you.
Help you before you die--before we die."

Littlejohn looked up and sighed. "Why couldn't this have happened
before?" he murmured. "It's too late now."

"But it isn't too late. My friends are here. They are telling your
fellow council-members the same thing right now. We may be old, but we
can still impart what we have learned. There are any number of
technological developments to be made. We can help you to increase
your use of atomic power. There's soil reclamation and irrigation
projects and biological techniques--"

"You said it yourself," Littlejohn whispered. "We're a dying race.
That's the primary problem. And it's an insoluble one. Just this
afternoon--" And he told him about the interview with Thurmon.

"Don't you understand?" Littlejohn concluded. "We have no solution for
survival. We're paying the price now because for a while we wouldn't
heed history. We tried to defeat Nature and in the end Nature has
defeated us. Because we would not render unto Caesar the things which
are--"

Harry Collins smiled. "That's it," he said.

"What?"

"Caesar. That's the answer. Your own medical men must have records. I
know, because I learned medicine from my son. There used to be an
operation, in the old days, called a caesarean section--used on normal
women and on dwarfs and midgets too, in childbirth. If your problem is
how to deliver normal children safely, the technique can be revived.
Get hold of some of your people. Let's see what data you have on this.
I'll be glad to furnish instruction--"

There was excitement after that. Too much excitement for Littlejohn.
By the time the council had assembled in emergency session, by the
time plans were formulated and he returned to his own dwelling in the
helicopter, he was completely exhausted. Only the edge of elation
sustained him; the realization that a solution had been found.

As he sank into slumber he knew that he would sleep the clock around.

And so would Harry Collins. The old man and his companions, now guests
of the council, had been temporarily quartered in the council-chambers.
It was the only structure large enough to house them and even so they
had to sleep on the floor. But it was sufficient comfort for the moment.

It was many hours before Harry Collins awoke. His waking was
automatic, for the tiny telescreen at the end of the council room
glowed suddenly, and the traditional voice chirped forth to interrupt
his slumber.

"Good morning," said the voice. "It's a beautiful day in New
Chicagee!"

Harry stared at the screen and then he smiled.

"Yes," he murmured. "But tomorrow will be better."





Next: Pandemic

Previous: Jesse Pringle 2039



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