Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Reverse Phylogeny" by Amelia Reynolds Long, part 2

This is the second and final installment (the first installment is here) of "Reverse Phylogeny", a Gernsback Era science fiction story by Amelia Reynolds Long, and a sequel to her story "A Leak in the Fountain of Youth". "Reverse Phylogeny" was first published in the June 1937 issue of Astounding Stories, and reprinted in the 1953 anthology Science Fiction Adventures in Dimension.

The story so far:
In an attempt to settle once and for all whether Atlantis existed, Professor Aloysius O'Flannigan uses hypnosis to bring up the hidden racial memories of the pro-Atlantis scholar Theophilus Black, the anti-Atlantis scholar Kenneth McScribe, and the American Indian Rain-in-the-Face. Word of the experiment reaches the papers, and the final phase is held in an auditorium before a standing-room-only crowd . . .

* * *

At last the final night came, when, according to the best calculations, the Atlantean strata in the unconscious minds of the three subjects should be reached. Aloysius had planned to skip a few thousand years in order to get, if possible, a description of Atlantis in its heyday, then to work up gradually to the great inundation. It would, he explained, make the experiment more understandable to the audience.

I think that, of the two of us, I was the more nervous. Experience had taught me that Aloysius' experiments quite frequently ended in unforeseen results; and I did not relish the thought of how so large an audience might react in such a case. I even urged him to have a sort of dress rehearsal in private; but he refused.

"No, Eric," he said firmly. "If I did that, tonight's performance would not be a true experiment, but merely a demonstration of something already proven. I am a man of my word, and must give these people what I promised."

"But suppose there was no continent of Atlantis," I argued. "Then what?"

"In that case," he replied, unruffled, "we will have proven Mr. McScribe's contention."

I saw that there was nothing I could do, so I gave up.

Promptly at eight o'clock, Aloysius stepped out upon the stage, and explained to a packed and eager house what he proposed to do. He was followed by Mr. Black and Mr. McScribe, who, in turn, stated their positions in the matter.

Chief Rain-in-the-Face, upon being introduced next, confined himself to the usual, noncommittal, "Ugh"; since the purpose of the whole affair was still a little hazy in his mind.

Amid a silence heavy enough to be weighed, Aloysius proceeded to place his three subjects in a state of hypnosis. He had explained that the best results might be expected from Mr. Black; since he alone, once the mental transfer to the remote past had been made, seemed able to translate his awakened race memories into the language of the present. Chief Rain-in-the-Face, when under the hypnotic influence, spoke his native Indian language; while on the last two occasions, Mr. McScribe had emitted only a kind of unintelligible jabbering suggestive of an anthropoid ape.

As soon as the hypnotic trance was deep enough, Aloysius addressed the three collectively, informing them that they were now living before the dawn of recorded history, in approximately the year 20,000 B. C., and directing them to describe their experiences. There followed a minute of tense expectancy, during which a subtle change seemed to take place in all three men.

Chief Rain-in-the-Face rose and delivered a spirited oration in a language that resembled none known on earth today; after which he bowed formally and resumed his seat.

The audience understood not a word of what he had said, and accordingly was duly impressed. Aloysius raised his hand to check applause that he saw was about to break forth, and turned to Mr. Black.

"Now, Theophilus Black, tell us where you are and what you see."

The reply came at once; but the words were spoken slowly, as if the speaker was obliged to translate his thoughts into a tongue with which he was unfamiliar:

"I am in a great city -- the capital of the civilized world. On all sides, tall, white buildings rear themselves toward the sky, while the streets are thronged with busy people. There are also many horse-drawn chariots; but each year these grow fewer, for recently there has been invented a chariot that runs without horses. Since the invention of this horseless chariot, the pedestrians, too, have grown fewer. The land is rich and powerful, and its scientists are the greatest the world has ever known."

"What is the name of this land?" Aloysius put in, endeavoring to control his excitement. So far, results were turning out far better than they had before.

There was a brief pause, Mr. Black said then: "Its native name would mean nothing to you, but it has come down to you in legend as Atlantis."

* * *

A unanimous gasp arose from the audience. The authenticity of the mythical Atlantis was actually being proven! At this very moment, the man before them had returned there mentally through awakened race memory! No wonder they were excited and thrilled. I was myself.

"I have said that our scientists are the greatest the world has ever known," Mr. Black went on in the same hesitant, rather monotonous voice. "But recently they have fallen into disrepute; all because they have predicted that which it does not please the people to believe.

"For many years we have known that the ocean bottom is rising. Our own coastal plains have been sinking; while our mariners report that in the distant reaches of both the eastern and western oceans, strange new islands have appeared. Our scientists have studied these reports, and announced that the appearance of the islands mark the beginning of a great cataclysm of nature, which will raise new continents from the ocean bottom, pouring the waters that now cover them over Atlantis, burying it forever. Naturally, the people are loath to accept such a prediction; for it seems to them impossible that Atlantis, the wise and beautiful, could ever perish."

"Does no one believe the scientists?" Aloysius asked.

"None but a few religious sects, who believe that the end of the world has been predicted. One of our merchants has taken advantage of their credulity, and has advertised in his shop a special sale of fine linen for ascension robes."

"When do the scientists predict that this great catastrophe will take place?"

"They say that it will occur about ten years from now."

Aloysius waited several seconds before speaking again. Then he said, "Six years have passed. The catastrophe is only four years away. Tell us what is happening in Atlantis now."

The reply came promptly. "Earthquakes have begun to shake our land. Two volcanoes have become active. The ocean bottom to the east and west is rising rapidly.

"Do the people still doubt the predictions of the scientists?"

"A few more have ceased to doubt. These are building large boats in which, if the water begins to rise over the land, they will flee to the small, barbarous continent of Yropa to the northeast. The boats are very large. They will carry animals and supplies as well as men and women."

"Blast me eyes!" exclaimed an awed British voice from the balcony. "A whole fleet of bloomin' Noah's arks!"

Aloysius gestured sternly for silence, and returned to his subject. "Now three more years have gone by. The disaster is only one year away."

The audience leaned forward breathlessly to catch the answer. This time the voice that delivered it was strained and tense.

"The sky is dark with the ashes from the volcanoes. Whole cities have been destroyed by earthquakes. Reports reach us that the sea has rushed in over a portion of Yropa, creating a large island off the west coast, where before was a peninsula. Also, a large tract of land shaped like a boot has arisen out of the sea south of Yropa.

"At last the people of Atlantis believe that the scientists predicted correctly, but now it is too late. Most of the boats have already departed to establish colonies in Yropa and other barbarous places. As for the others, their captains grow rich conducting one-way excursions to the new islands. Atlantis is a doomed continent."

The voice moaned away into silence, like the last gasp of the dying civilization it described. It was echoed by the audibly released breath of the gallery.

From my place in the wings, I tried to catch Aloysius' eye. Surely the experiment had gone far enough and it was now time to awaken the subjects. Besides, during the last few minutes, Chief Rain-in-the-Face had shown distinct signs of restlessness, as if he was passing through the same mental experiences as Mr. Black, but was unable to express himself. To keep him in the hypnotic state much longer might lead to complications.

But Aloysius had not yet finished. A gleam came into his eyes that I knew only too well; he braced himself to launch the real climax of his experiment. "The hour of catastrophe has come!" he cried in ringing tones. "Atlantis is sinking! The waters are closing over it! Tell me what you see."

* * *

There was a moment of electric tension so strong it could have charged a battery. Then the answer came; but this time it was not in words, but in actions.

Before any one fully realized what was happening, Chief Rain-in-the-Face had leaped from his chair. The next instant he was heading for the edge of the platform, while his arms flailed about in perfect imitation of an English Channel swimmer. Pausing on the platform's edge for only a split second, he executed a perfect swan dive into the lap of an obese lady in the front row!

Instantly pandemonium broke loose. Women screamed and men shouted. There was a mad stampede for the exits, in which everybody seemed to get in everybody else's way. One well-meaning soul, attempting to switch on more lights, pressed the wrong button -- with the result that he turned on the emergency fire sprinkler instead, and streams of water began to spurt in all directions. We learned afterward that this caused several people to believe that the entire company had actually been translated bodily as well as mentally to sinking Atlantis, and were going down with it.

In vain, Aloysius entreated the crowd to be calm, assuring them that everything was all right. However, those people had but one thought in mind; to get out of there -- quickly, while they still had their scalps.

In the excitement, the two other subjects of the experiment had been completely forgotten; and it is painful to contemplate what might have been the fate of at least one of them had not a faint, gurgling sound attracted my attention. I went to investigate. There was poor Mr. Black flapping about helplessly in his chair, emitting the most awful gaspings and groanings, like a man in the last stages of drowning.

"Aloysius!" I bellowed, striving to make myself heard above the surrounding din. "You've got to get Black out of the Atlantis period, quick! The poor devil can't swim!"

Leaving the auditorium to attendants and the police, who had arrived by this time to look after the commotion in front, we rushed to the assistance of Mr. Black; while Mr. McScribe peered out at us from beneath the speaker's table, a perfect example of the atavistic came man gone to cover. Our star subject was in pretty bad shape; and even after he had been awakened from the hypnosis, it was necessary to administer artificial respiration.

* * *

After the excitement was all over, and Aloysius had been warned, by an irate police sergeant, that, "if there's any more av this foolishness, Professor O'Flannigan, ye'll find yerself in a cage with the rest of the monkeys," we were allowed to go home.

To my surprise, Aloysius was not nearly so downcast as I had expected. "I'll admit that matters did get a little out of hand toward the end," he said philosophically. "But, in spite of that, the experiment was a success. We certainly proved the one-time existence of Atlantis."

"I'm not so sure," I replied sourly. "I heard a couple of reporters say that the whole thing could be explained by pure mental suggestion."

Aloysius merely smiled. "Of course, there will always be skeptics," he said. "But I have material proof that cannot be explained away."

"Material proof?" I repeated. "What in the world do you mean?"

"For a long time," he began, "certain scientists have maintained that there exist ultra dimensions in time and space, which, if they were thoroughly understood, could be passed through physically as well as mentally. Now don't ask me how, for I'm not a mathematician. All I know is that, in some way, Mr. Black's mental rapport with the past became so strong that he was able to draw through these dimensions an actual, material specimen from the sinking continent of Atlantis. I took it from his mouth when we were reviving him. Here it is."

He put his hand into his pocket and drew out -- by the tail -- a little dead fish!

I stared at it incredulously. "Holy mackerel!" I gasped.

Aloysius shook his head. "No, Eric," he corrected, with his usual care for scientific accuracy, "just a sucker."


(continue to review)

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