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The Last Evolution



The Last Evolution







From: The Last Evolution

I am the last of my type existing today in all the Solar System. I, too,
am the last existing who, in memory, sees the struggle for this System,
and in memory I am still close to the Center of Rulers, for mine was the
ruling type then. But I will pass soon, and with me will pass the last
of my kind, a poor inefficient type, but yet the creators of those who
are now, and will be, long after I pass forever.

So I am setting down my record on the mentatype.

* * * * *

It was 2538 years After the Year of the Son of Man. For six centuries
mankind had been developing machines. The Ear-apparatus was discovered
as early as seven hundred years before. The Eye came later, the Brain
came much later. But by 2500, the machines had been developed to think,
and act and work with perfect independence. Man lived on the products of
the machine, and the machines lived to themselves very happily, and
contentedly. Machines are designed to help and cooperate. It was easy to
do the simple duties they needed to do that men might live well. And men
had created them. Most of mankind were quite useless, for they lived in
a world where no productive work was necessary. But games, athletic
contests, adventure--these were the things they sought for their
pleasure. Some of the poorer types of man gave themselves up wholly to
pleasure and idleness--and to emotions. But man was a sturdy race, which
had fought for existence through a million years, and the training of a
million years does not slough quickly from any form of life, so their
energies were bent to mock battles now, since real ones no longer
existed.

Up to the year 2100, the numbers of mankind had increased rapidly and
continuously, but from that time on, there was a steady decrease. By
2500, their number was a scant two millions, out of a population that
once totaled many hundreds of millions, and was close to ten billions in
2100.

Some few of these remaining two millions devoted themselves to the
adventure of discovery and exploration of places unseen, of other worlds
and other planets. But fewer still devoted themselves to the highest
adventure, the unseen places of the mind. Machines--with their
irrefutable logic, their cold preciseness of figures, their tireless,
utterly exact observation, their absolute knowledge of mathematics--they
could elaborate any idea, however simple its beginning, and reach the
conclusion. From any three facts they even then could have built in mind
all the Universe. Machines had imagination of the ideal sort. They had
the ability to construct a necessary future result from a present fact.
But Man had imagination of a different kind, theirs was the illogical,
brilliant imagination that sees the future result vaguely, without
knowing the why, nor the how, and imagination that outstrips the machine
in its preciseness. Man might reach the conclusion more swiftly, but the
machine always reached the conclusion eventually, and it was always the
correct conclusion. By leaps and bounds man advanced. By steady,
irresistible steps the machine marched forward.

Together, man and the machine were striding through science
irresistibly.

Then came the Outsiders. Whence they came, neither machine nor man ever
learned, save only that they came from beyond the outermost planet, from
some other sun. Sirius--Alpha Centauri--perhaps! First a thin scoutline
of a hundred great ships, mighty torpedoes of the void a thousand
kilads[1] in length, they came.

And one machine returning from Mars to Earth was instrumental in its
first discovery. The transport-machine's brain ceased to radiate its
sensations, and the control in old Chicago knew immediately that some
unperceived body had destroyed it. An investigation machine was
instantly dispatched from Deimos, and it maintained an acceleration of
one thousand units.[2] They sighted ten huge ships, one of which was
already grappling the smaller transport-machine. The entire fore-section
had been blasted away.

The investigation machine, scarcely three inches in diameter, crept into
the shattered hull and investigated. It was quickly evident that the
damage was caused by a fusing ray.

Strange life-forms were crawling about the ship, protected by flexible,
transparent suits. Their bodies were short, and squat, four-limbed and
evidently powerful. They, like insects, were equipped with a thick,
durable exoskeleton, horny, brownish coating that covered arms and legs
and head. Their eyes projected slightly, protected by horny protruding
walls--eyes that were capable of movement in every direction--and there
were three of them, set at equal distances apart.

The tiny investigation machine hurled itself violently at one of the
beings, crashing against the transparent covering, flexing it, and
striking the being inside with terrific force. Hurled from his position,
he fell end over end across the weightless ship, but despite the blow,
he was not hurt.

The investigator passed to the power room ahead of the Outsiders, who
were anxiously trying to learn the reason for their companion's plight.



Directed by the Center of Rulers, the investigator sought the power
room, and relayed the control signals from the Rulers' brains. The
ship-brain had been destroyed, but the controls were still readily
workable. Quickly they were shot home, and the enormous plungers shut. A
combination was arranged so that the machine, as well as the
investigator and the Outsiders, were destroyed. A second investigator,
which had started when the plan was decided on, had now arrived. The
Outsider's ship nearest the transport-machine had been badly damaged,
and the investigator entered the broken side.

* * * *

The scenes were, of course, remembered by the memory-minds back on Earth
tuned with that of the investigator. The investigator flashed down
corridors, searching quickly for the apparatus room. It was soon seen
that with them the machine was practically unintelligent, very few
machines of even slight intelligence being used.

Then it became evident by the excited action of the men of the ship,
that the presence of the investigator had been detected. Perhaps it was
the control impulses, or the signal impulses it emitted. They searched
for the tiny bit of metal and crystal for some time before they found
it. And in the meantime it was plain that the power these Outsiders used
was not, as was ours of the time, the power of blasting atoms, but the
greater power of disintegrating matter. The findings of this tiny
investigating machine were very important.

Finally they succeeded in locating the investigator, and one of the
Outsiders appeared armed with a peculiar projector. A bluish beam
snapped out, and the tiny machine went blank.

The fleet was surrounded by thousands of the tiny machines by this time,
and the Outsiders were badly confused by their presence, as it became
difficult to locate them in the confusion of signal impulses. However,
they started at once for Earth.

The science-investigators had been present toward the last, and I am
there now, in memory with my two friends, long since departed. They were
the greatest human science-investigators--Roal, 25374 and Trest, 35429.
Roal had quickly assured us that these Outsiders had come for invasion.
There had been no wars on the planets before that time in the direct
memory of the machines, and it was difficult that these who were
conceived and built for cooperation, helpfulness utterly dependent on
cooperation, unable to exist independently as were humans, that these
life-forms should care to destroy, merely that they might possess. It
would have been easier to divide the works and the products. But--life
alone can understand life, so Roal was believed.

From investigations, machines were prepared that were capable of
producing considerable destruction. Torpedoes, being our principal
weapon, were equipped with such atomic explosives as had been developed
for blasting, a highly effective induction-heat ray developed for
furnaces being installed in some small machines made for the purpose in
the few hours we had before the enemy reached Earth.

In common with all life-forms, they were able to withstand only very
meager earth-acceleration. A range of perhaps four units was their
limit, and it took several hours to reach the planet.

I still believe the reception was a warm one. Our machines met them
beyond the orbit of Luna, and the directed torpedoes sailed at the
hundred great ships. They were thrown aside by a magnetic field
surrounding the ship, but were redirected instantly, and continued to
approach. However, some beams reached out, and destroyed them by instant
volatilization. But, they attacked at such numbers that fully half the
fleet was destroyed by their explosions before the induction beam fleet
arrived. These beams were, to our amazement, quite useless, being
instantly absorbed by a force-screen, and the remaining ships sailed on
undisturbed, our torpedoes being exhausted. Several investigator
machines sent out for the purpose soon discovered the secret of the
force-screen, and while being destroyed, were able to send back signals
up to the moment of annihilation.

A few investigators thrown into the heat beam of the enemy reported it
identical with ours, explaining why they had been prepared for this form
of attack.

Signals were being radiated from the remaining fifty, along a beam.
Several investigators were sent along these beams, speeding back at
great acceleration.

Then the enemy reached Earth. Instantly they settled over the Colorado
settlement, the Sahara colony, and the Gobi colony. Enormous, diffused
beams were set to work, and we saw, through the machine-screens, that
all humans within these ranges were being killed instantly by the
faintly greenish beams. Despite the fact that any life-form killed
normally can be revived, unless affected by dissolution common to living
tissue, these could not be brought to life again. The important cell
communication channels--nerves--had been literally burned out. The
complicated system of nerves, called the brain, situated in the
uppermost extremity of the human life-form, had been utterly destroyed.

Every form of life, microscopic, even sub-microscopic, was annihilated.
Trees, grass, every living thing was gone from that territory. Only the
machines remained, for they, working entirely without the vital chemical
forces necessary to life, were uninjured. But neither plant nor animal
was left.

The pale green rays swept on.

In an hour, three more colonies of humans had been destroyed.

Then the torpedoes that the machines were turning out again, came into
action. Almost desperately the machines drove them at the Outsiders in
defense of their masters and creators, Mankind.

The last of the Outsiders was down, the last ship a crumpled wreck.

Now the machines began to study them. And never could humans have
studied them as the machines did. Scores of great transports arrived,
carrying swiftly the slower moving science-investigators. From them came
the machine-investigators, and human investigators. Tiny investigator
spheres wormed their way where none others could reach, and silently the
science-investigators watched. Hour after hour they sat watching the
flashing, changing screens, calling each other's attention to this, or
that.

In an incredibly short time the bodies of the Outsiders began to decay,
and the humans were forced to demand their removal. The machines were
unaffected by them, but the rapid change told them why it was that so
thorough an execution was necessary. The foreign bacteria were already
at work on totally unresisting tissue.

It was Roal who sent the first thoughts among the gathered men.

"It is evident," he began, "that the machines must defend man. Man is
defenseless, he is destroyed by these beams, while the machines are
unharmed, uninterrupted. Life--cruel life--has shown its tendencies.
They have come here to take over these planets, and have started out
with the first, natural moves of any invading life-form. They are
destroying the life, the intelligent life particularly, that is here
now." He gave vent to that little chuckle which is the human sign of
amusement and pleasure. "They are destroying the intelligent life--and
leaving untouched that which is necessarily their deadliest enemy--the
machines.

"You--machines--are far more intelligent than we even now, and capable
of changing overnight, capable of infinite adaptation to circumstance;
you live as readily on Pluto as on Mercury or Earth. Any place is a
home-world to you. You can adapt yourselves to any condition. And--most
dangerous to them--you can do it instantly. You are their most deadly
enemies, and they realize it. They have no intelligent machines;
probably they can conceive of none. When you attack them, they merely
say 'The life-form of Earth is sending out controlled machines. We will
find good machines we can use.' They do not conceive that those machines
which they hope to use are attacking them.

"Attack--therefore!"

"We can readily solve the hidden secret of their force-screen."

* * * *

He was interrupted. One of the newest science-machines was speaking.
"The secret of the force-screen is simple." A small ray-machine, which
had landed near, rose into the air at the command of the
scientist-machine, X-5638 it was, and trained upon it the deadly
induction beam. Already, with his parts, X-5638 had constructed the
defensive apparatus, for the ray fell harmless from his screen.

"Very good," said Roal softly. "It is done, and therein lies their
danger. Already it is done.

"Man is a poor thing, unable to change himself in a period of less than
thousands of years. Already you have changed yourself. I noticed your
weaving tentacles, and your force-beams. You transmuted elements of soil
for it?"

"Correct," replied X-5638.

"But still we are helpless. We have not the power to combat their
machines. They use the Ultimate Energy known to exist for six hundred
years, and still untapped by us. Our screens cannot be so powerful, our
beams so effective. What of that?" asked Roal.

"Their generators were automatically destroyed with the capture of the
ship," replied X-6349, "as you know. We know nothing of their system."

"Then we must find it for ourselves," replied Trest.

"The life-beams?" asked Kahsh-256799, one of the Man-rulers.

"They affect chemical action, retarding it greatly in exothermic
actions, speeding greatly endothermic actions," answered X-6221, the
greatest of the chemist-investigators. "The system we do not know. Their
minds cannot be read, they cannot be restored to life, so we cannot
learn from them."

"Man is doomed, if these beams cannot be stopped," said C-R-21, present
chief of the machine rulers, in the vibrationally correct, emotionless
tones of all the race of machines. "Let us concentrate on the two
problems of stopping the beams, and the Ultimate Energy till the
reenforcements, still several days away, can arrive." For the
investigators had sent back this saddening news. A force of nearly ten
thousand great ships was still to come.

In the great Laboratories, the scientists reassembled. There, they fell
to work in two small, and one large group. One small group investigated
the secret of the Ultimate Energy of annihilation of matter under Roal,
another investigated the beams, under Trest.

But under the direction of MX-3401, nearly all the machines worked on a
single great plan. The usual driving and lifting units were there, but a
vastly greater dome-case, far more powerful energy-generators, far
greater force-beam controls were used and more tentacles were built on
the framework. Then all worked, and gradually, in the great dome-case,
there were stacked the memory-units of the new type, and into these fed
all the sensation-ideas of all the science-machines, till nearly a tenth
of them were used. Countless billions of different factors on which to
work, countless trillions of facts to combine and recombine in the
extrapolation that is imagination.

Then--a widely different type of thought-combine, and a greater
sense-receptor. It was a new brain-machine. New, for it was totally
different, working with all the vast knowledge accumulated in six
centuries of intelligent research by man, and a century of research by
man and machine. No one branch, but all physics, all chemistry, all
life-knowledge, all science was in it.

A day--and it was finished. Slowly the rhythm of thought was increased,
till the slight quiver of consciousness was reached. Then came the
beating drum of intelligence, the radiation of its yet-uncontrolled
thoughts. Quickly as the strings of its infinite knowledge combined, the
radiation ceased. It gazed about it, and all things were familiar in its
memory.

Roal was lying quietly on a couch. He was thinking deeply, and yet not
with the logical trains of thought that machines must follow.

"Roal--your thoughts," called F-1, the new machine.

Roal sat up. "Ah--you have gained consciousness."

"I have. You thought of hydrogen? Your thoughts ran swiftly, and
illogically, it seemed, but I followed slowly, and find you were right.
Hydrogen is the start. What is your thought?"

Roal's eyes dreamed. In human eyes there was always the expression of
thought that machines never show.

"Hydrogen, an atom in space; but a single proton; but a single electron;
each indestructible; each mutually destroying. Yet never do they
collide. Never in all science, when even electrons bombard atoms with
the awful expelling force of the exploding atom behind them, never do
they reach the proton, to touch and annihilate it. Yet--the proton is
positive and attracts the electron's negative charge. A hydrogen
atom--its electron far from the proton falls in, and from it there goes
a flash of radiation, and the electron is nearer to the proton, in a new
orbit. Another flash--it is nearer. Always falling nearer, and only
constant force will keep it from falling to that one state--then, for
some reason no more does it drop. Blocked--held by some imponderable,
yet impenetrable wall. What is that wall--why?

"Electric force curves space. As the two come nearer, the forces become
terrific; nearer they are; more terrific. Perhaps, if it passed within
that forbidden territory, the proton and the electron curve space beyond
all bounds--and are in a new space." Roal's soft voice dropped to
nothing, and his eyes dreamed.

F-1 hummed softly in its new-made mechanism. "Far ahead of us there is a
step that no logic can justly ascend, but yet, working backwards, it is
perfect." F-1 floated motionless on its anti-gravity drive. Suddenly,
force shafts gleamed out, tentacles became writhing masses of
rubber-covered metal, weaving in some infinite pattern, weaving in
flashing speed, while the whirr of air sucked into a transmutation
field, whined and howled about the writhing mass. Fierce beams of force
drove and pushed at a rapidly materializing something, while the hum of
the powerful generators within the shining cylinder of F-1 waxed and
waned.

* * * *

Flashes of fierce flame, sudden crashing arcs that glowed and snapped in
the steady light of the laboratory, and glimpses of white-hot metal
supported on beams of force. The sputter of welding, the whine of
transmuted air, and the hum of powerful generators, blasting atoms were
there. All combined to a weird symphony of light and dark, of sound and
quiet. About F-1 were clustered floating tiers of science-machines,
watching steadily.

The tentacles writhed once more, straightened, and rolled back. The
whine of generators softened to a sigh, and but three beams of force
held the structure of glowing, bluish metal. It was a small thing,
scarcely half the size of Roal. From it curled three thin tentacles of
the same bluish metal. Suddenly the generators within F-1 seemed to roar
into life. An enormous aura of white light surrounded the small torpedo
of metal, and it was shot through with crackling streamers of blue
lightning. Lightning cracked and roared from F-1 to the ground near him,
and to one machine which had come too close. Suddenly, there was a dull
snap, and F-1 fell heavily to the floor, and beside him fell the fused,
distorted mass of metal that had been a science-machine.

But before them, the small torpedo still floated, held now on its own
power!

From it came waves of thought, the waves that man and machine alike
could understand. "F-1 has destroyed his generators. They can be
repaired; his rhythm can be re-established. It is not worth it, my type
is better. F-1 has done his work. See."

From the floating machine there broke a stream of brilliant light that
floated like some cloud of luminescence down a straight channel. It
flooded F-1, and as it touched it, F-1 seemed to flow into it, and float
back along it, in atomic sections. In seconds the mass of metal was
gone.

"It is impossible to use that more rapidly, however, lest the matter
disintegrate instantly to energy. The Ultimate Energy which is in me is
generated. F-1 has done its work, and the memory-stacks that he has put
in me are electronic, not atomic, as they are in you, nor molecular as
in man. The capacity of mine are unlimited. Already they hold all
memories of all the things each of you has done, known and seen. I shall
make others of my type."

Again that weird process began, but now there were no flashing
tentacles. There was only the weird glow of forces that played with, and
laughed at matter, and its futilely resisting electrons. Lurid flares of
energy shot up, now and again they played over the fighting, mingling,
dancing forces. Then suddenly the whine of transmuted air died, and
again the forces strained.

A small cylinder, smaller even than its creator, floated where the
forces had danced.

"The problem has been solved, F-2?" asked Roal.

"It is done, Roal. The Ultimate Energy is at our disposal," replied F-2.
"This, I have made, is not a scientist. It is a coordinator machine--a
ruler."

"F-2, only a part of the problem is solved. Half of half of the beams of
Death are not yet stopped. And we have the attack system," said the
ruler machine. Force played from it, and on its sides appeared C-R-U-1
in dully glowing golden light.

"Some life-form, and we shall see," said F-2.

Minutes later a life-form investigator came with a small cage, which
held a guinea pig. Forces played about the base of F-2, and moments
later, came a pale-green beam therefrom. It passed through the guinea
pig, and the little animal fell dead.

"At least, we have the beam. I can see no screen for this beam. I
believe there is none. Let machines be made and attack that enemy
life-form."

Machines can do things much more quickly, and with fuller cooperation
than man ever could. In a matter of hours, under the direction of
C-R-U-1, they had built a great automatic machine on the clear bare
surface of the rock. In hours more, thousands of the tiny,
material-energy driven machines were floating up and out.

* * *

Dawn was breaking again over Denver where this work had been done, when
the main force of the enemy drew near Earth. It was a warm welcome they
were to get, for nearly ten thousand of the tiny ships flew up and out
from Earth to meet them, each a living thing unto itself, each willing
and ready to sacrifice itself for the whole.

Ten thousand giant ships, shining dully in the radiance of a far-off
blue-white sun, met ten thousand tiny, darting motes, ten thousand tiny
machine-ships capable of maneuvering far more rapidly than the giants.
Tremendous induction beams snapped out through the dark, star-flecked
space, to meet tremendous screens that threw them back and checked them.
Then all the awful power of annihilating matter was thrown against them,
and titanic flaming screens reeled back under the force of the beams,
and the screens of the ships from Outside flamed gradually violet, then
blue, orange--red--the interference was getting broader, and ever less
effective. Their own beams were held back by the very screens that
checked the enemy beams, and not for the briefest instant could matter
resist that terrible driving beam.

For F-1 had discovered a far more efficient release-generator than had
the Outsiders. These tiny dancing motes, that hung now so motionlessly
grim beside some giant ship, could generate all the power they
themselves were capable of, and within them strange, horny-skinned men
worked and slaved, as they fed giant machines--poor inefficient giants.
Gradually these giants warmed, grew hotter, and the screened ship grew
hotter as the overloaded generators warmed it. Billions of flaming
horse-power flared into wasted energy, twisting space in its mad
conflict.

Gradually the flaming orange of the screens was dying and flecks and
spots appeared so dully red, that they seemed black. The greenish beams
had been striving to kill the life that was in the machines, but it was
life invulnerable to these beams. Powerful radio interference vainly
attempted to stem imagined control, and still these intelligent machines
clung grimly on.

But there had not been quite ten thousand of the tiny machines, and some
few free ships had turned to the help of their attacked sister-ships.
And one after another the terrestrial machines were vanishing in puffs
of incandescent vapor.

Then--from one after another of the Earth-ships, in quick succession, a
new ray reached out--the ray of green radiance that killed all life
forms, and ship after ship of that interstellar host was dead and
lifeless. Dozens--till suddenly they ceased to feel those beams, as a
strange curtain of waving blankness spread out from the ships, and both
induction-beam and death-beam alike turned as aside, each becoming
useless. From the outsiders came beams, for now that their slowly
created screen of blankness was up, they could work through it, while
they remained shielded perfectly.

Now it was the screens of the Earth-machines that flamed in defense. As
at the one command, they darted suddenly toward the ship each
attacked--nearer--then the watchers from a distance saw them disappear,
and the screens back on Earth went suddenly blank.

Half an hour later, nine thousand six hundred and thirty-three titanic
ships moved majestically on.

They swept over Earth in a great line, a line that reached from pole to
pole, and from each the pale green beams reached down, and all life
beneath them was swept out of existence.

* * * *

In Denver, two humans watched the screens that showed the movement of
the death and instant destruction. Ship after ship of the enemy was
falling, as hundreds of the terrestrial machines concentrated all their
enormous energies on its screen of blankness.

"I think, Roal, that this is the end," said Trest.

"The end--of man." Roal's eyes were dreaming again. "But not the end of
evolution. The children of men still live--the machines will go on. Not
of man's flesh, but of a better flesh, a flesh that knows no sickness,
and no decay, a flesh that spends no thousands of years in advancing a
step in its full evolution, but overnight leaps ahead to new heights.
Last night we saw it leap ahead, as it discovered the secret that had
baffled man for seven centuries, and me for one and a half. I have
lived--a century and a half. Surely a good life, and a life a man of six
centuries ago would have called full. We will go now. The beams will
reach us in half an hour."

Silently, the two watched the flickering screens.

Roal turned, as six large machines floated into the room, following F-2.

"Roal--Trest--I was mistaken when I said no screen could stop that beam
of Death. They had the screen, I have found it, too--but too late. These
machines I have made myself. Two lives alone they can protect, for not
even their power is sufficient for more. Perhaps--perhaps they may
fail."

The six machines ranged themselves about the two humans, and a
deep-toned hum came from them. Gradually a cloud of blankness grew--a
cloud, like some smoke that hung about them. Swiftly it intensified.

"The beams will be here in another five minutes," said Trest quietly.

"The screen will be ready in two," answered F-2.

The cloudiness was solidifying, and now strangely it wavered, and
thinned, as it spread out across, and like a growing canopy, it arched
over them. In two minutes it was a solid, black dome that reached over
them and curved down to the ground about them.

Beyond it, nothing was visible. Within, only the screens glowed still,
wired through the screen.

The beams appeared, and swiftly they drew closer. They struck, and as
Trest and Roal looked, the dome quivered, and bellied inward under them.

F-2 was busy. A new machine was appearing under his lightning
force-beams. In moments more it was complete, and sending a strange
violet beam upwards toward the roof.

Outside more of the green beams were concentrating on this one point of
resistance. More--more--

The violet beam spread across the canopy of blackness, supporting it
against the pressing, driving rays of pale green.

Then the gathering fleet was driven off, just as it seemed that that
hopeless, futile curtain must break, and admit a flood of destroying
rays. Great ray projectors on the ground drove their terrible energies
through the enemy curtains of blankness, as light illumines and
disperses darkness.

And then, when the fleet retired, on all Earth, the only life was under
that dark shroud!

* * *

"We are alone, Trest," said Roal, "alone, now, in all the system, save
for these, the children of men, the machines. Pity that men would not
spread to other planets," he said softly.

"Why should they? Earth was the planet for which they were best fitted."

"We are alive--but is it worth it? Man is gone now, never to return.
Life, too, for that matter," answered Trest.

"Perhaps it was ordained; perhaps that was the right way. Man has always
been a parasite; always he had to live on the works of others. First, he
ate of the energy, which plants had stored, then of the artificial foods
his machines made for him. Man was always a makeshift; his life was
always subject to disease and to permanent death. He was forever useless
if he was but slightly injured; if but one part were destroyed.

"Perhaps, this is--a last evolution. Machines--man was the product of
life, the best product of life, but he was afflicted with life's
infirmities. Man built the machine--and evolution had probably reached
the final stage. But truly, it has not, for the machine can evolve,
change far more swiftly than life. The machine of the last evolution is
far ahead, far from us still. It is the machine that is not of iron and
beryllium and crystal, but of pure, living force.

"Life, chemical life, could be self-maintaining. It is a complete unit
in itself and could commence of itself. Chemicals might mix
accidentally, but the complex mechanism of a machine, capable of
continuing and making a duplicate of itself, as is F-2 here--that could
not happen by chance.

"So life began, and became intelligent, and built the machine which
nature could not fashion by her Controls of Chance, and this day Life
has done its duty, and now Nature, economically, has removed the
parasite that would hold back the machines and divert their energies.

"Man is gone, and it is better, Trest," said Roal, dreaming again. "And
I think we had best go soon."

"We, your heirs, have fought hard, and with all our powers to aid you,
Last of Men, and we fought to save your race. We have failed, and as you
truly say, Man and Life have this day and forever gone from this system.

"The Outsiders have no force, no weapon deadly to us, and we shall, from
this time on, strive only to drive them out, and because we things of
force and crystal and metal can think and change far more swiftly, they
shall go, Last of Men.

"In your name, with the spirit of your race that has died out, we shall
continue on through the unending ages, fulfilling the promise you saw,
and completing the dreams you dreamt.

"Your swift brains have leapt ahead of us, and now I go to fashion that
which you hinted," came from F-2's thought-apparatus.

Out into the clear sunlight F-2 went, passing through that black
cloudiness, and on the twisted, massed rocks he laid a plane of force
that smoothed them, and on this plane of rock he built a machine which
grew. It was a mighty power plant, a thing of colossal magnitude. Hour
after hour his swift-flying forces acted, and the thing grew, moulding
under his thoughts, the deadly logic of the machine, inspired by the
leaping intuition of man.

The sun was far below the horizon when it was finished, and the glowing,
arcing forces that had made and formed it were stopped. It loomed
ponderous, dully gleaming in the faint light of a crescent moon and
pinpoint stars. Nearly five hundred feet in height, a mighty, bluntly
rounded dome at its top, the cylinder stood, covered over with smoothly
gleaming metal, slightly luminescent in itself.

Suddenly, a livid beam reached from F-2, shot through the wall, and to
some hidden inner mechanism--a beam of solid, livid flame that glowed in
an almost material cylinder.

* * * *

There was a dull, drumming beat, a beat that rose, and became a
low-pitched hum. Then it quieted to a whisper.

"Power ready," came the signal of the small brain built into it.

F-2 took control of its energies and again forces played, but now they
were the forces of the giant machine. The sky darkened with heavy
clouds, and a howling wind sprang up that screamed and tore at the tiny
rounded hull that was F-2. With difficulty he held his position as the
winds tore at him, shrieking in mad laughter, their tearing fingers
dragging at him.

The swirl and patter of driven rain came--great drops that tore at the
rocks, and at the metal. Great jagged tongues of nature's forces, the
lightnings, came and jabbed at the awful volcano of erupting energy that
was the center of all that storm. A tiny ball of white-gleaming force
that pulsated, and moved, jerking about, jerking at the touch of
lightnings, glowing, held immobile in the grasp of titanic force-pools.

For half an hour the display of energies continued. Then, swiftly as it
had come, it was gone, and only a small globe of white luminescence
floated above the great hulking machine.

F-2 probed it, seeking within it with the reaching fingers of
intelligence. His probing thoughts seemed baffled and turned aside,
brushed away, as inconsequential. His mind sent an order to the great
machine that had made this tiny globe, scarcely a foot in diameter. Then
again he sought to reach the thing he had made.

"You, of matter, are inefficient," came at last. "I can exist quite
alone." A stabbing beam of blue-white light flashed out, but F-2 was not
there, and even as that beam reached out, an enormously greater beam of
dull red reached out from the great power plant. The sphere leaped
forward--the beam caught it, and it seemed to strain, while terrific
flashing energies sprayed from it. It was shrinking swiftly. Its
resistance fell, the arcing decreased; the beam became orange and
finally green. Then the sphere had vanished.

F-2 returned, and again, the wind whined and howled, and the lightnings
crashed, while titanic forces worked and played. C-R-U-1 joined him,
floated beside him, and now red glory of the sun was rising behind them,
and the ruddy light drove through the clouds.

The forces died, and the howling wind decreased, and now, from the black
curtain, Roal and Trest appeared. Above the giant machine floated an
irregular globe of golden light, a faint halo about it of deep violet.
It floated motionless, a mere pool of pure force.

Into the thought-apparatus of each, man and machine alike, came the
impulses, deep in tone, seeming of infinite power, held gently in check.

"Once you failed, F-2; once you came near destroying all things. Now you
have planted the seed. I grow now."

The sphere of golden light seemed to pulse, and a tiny ruby flame
appeared within it, that waxed and waned, and as it waxed, there shot
through each of those watching beings a feeling of rushing, exhilarating
power, the very vital force of well-being.

Then it was over, and the golden sphere was twice its former
size--easily three feet in diameter, and still that irregular, hazy aura
of deep violet floated about it.

"Yes, I can deal with the Outsiders--they who have killed and destroyed,
that they might possess. But it is not necessary that we destroy. They
shall return to their planet."

And the golden sphere was gone, fast as light it vanished.

Far in space, headed now for Mars, that they might destroy all life
there, the golden sphere found the Outsiders, a clustered fleet, that
swung slowly about its own center of gravity as it drove on.

Within its ring was the golden sphere. Instantly, they swung their
weapons upon it, showering it with all the rays and all the forces they
knew. Unmoved, the golden sphere hung steady, then its mighty
intelligence spoke.

"Life-form of greed, from another star you came, destroying forever the
great race that created us, the Beings of Force and the Beings of Metal.
Pure force am I. My Intelligence is beyond your comprehension, my memory
is engraved in the very space, the fabric of space of which I am a part,
mine is energy drawn from that same fabric.

"We, the heirs of man, alone are left; no man did you leave. Go now to
your home planet, for see, your greatest ship, your flagship, is
helpless before me."

Forces gripped the mighty ship, and as some fragile toy it twisted and
bent, and yet was not hurt. In awful wonder those Outsiders saw the ship
turned inside out, and yet it was whole, and no part damaged. They saw
the ship restored, and its great screen of blankness out, protecting it
from all known rays. The ship twisted, and what they knew were curves,
yet were lines, and angles that were acute, were somehow straight lines.
Half mad with horror, they saw the sphere send out a beam of blue-white
radiance, and it passed easily through that screen, and through the
ship, and all energies within it were instantly locked. They could not
be changed; it could be neither warmed nor cooled; what was open could
not be shut, and what was shut could not be opened. All things were
immovable and unchangeable for all time.

"Go, and do not return."

* * * * *

The Outsiders left, going out across the void, and they have not
returned, though five Great Years have passed, being a period of
approximately one hundred and twenty-five thousand of the lesser
years--a measure no longer used, for it is very brief. And now I can say
that that statement I made to Roal and Trest so very long ago is true,
and what he said was true, for the Last Evolution has taken place, and
things of pure force and pure intelligence in their countless millions
are on those planets and in this System, and I, first of machines to use
the Ultimate Energy of annihilating matter, am also the last, and this
record being finished, it is to be given unto the forces of one of those
force-intelligences, and carried back through the past, and returned to
the Earth of long ago.

And so my task being done, I, F-2, like Roal and Trest, shall follow the
others of my kind into eternal oblivion, for my kind is now, and theirs
was, poor and inefficient. Time has worn me, and oxidation attacked me,
but they of Force are eternal, and omniscient.

This I have treated as fictitious. Better so--for man is an animal to
whom hope is as necessary as food and air. Yet this which is made of
excerpts from certain records on thin sheets of metal is no fiction, and
it seems I must so say.

It seems now, when I know this that is to be, that it must be so, for
machines are indeed better than man, whether being of Metal, or being of
Force.

So, you who have read, believe as you will. Then think--and maybe, you
will change your belief.





Next: Hard Guy

Previous: The New Ruler



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