Thursday, March 4, 2010

"The Morons" by Harl Vincent, part 2

This is the second installment of "The Morons", an early science fiction story by pioneering writer Harl Vincent. This is the first appearance of "The Morons" since its original publication in the June 1939 issue of Astounding Science Fiction.

The story so far:
Grayson, Matthews, and Nelson are the crew of a spaceship that has crash-landed on Venus. When they encounter Throg, one of the simple-minded natives, he surprises them by speaking Italian. They soon learn why when they meet Signor Polto, the sole survivor of an earlier expedition to Venus launched by Italy . . .

* * *

Matthews jumped down from the lock and strolled over toward a chalky cliff that thrust up an island of drier land in the swamp. The natives had dragged their xyll over there, and were beginning to hack through the heavy armor. Matthews watched them a moment, then sat down wearily and began figuring with pad and pencil. Several of the hairy natives came and stared over his shoulder. Matthews moved uneasily, then finally relaxed in resignation and continued.

"Polto," Grayson asked suddenly, "do they have any written language or understand writing? Do they know anything?"

The little Italian shrugged characteristically. "I don't know. I lose my mind trying to figure them out. Today they know everything; they fell a tree accurately so it falls across a stream and they cross. They move a boulder with a lever and ingenious fulcrum. They do things with mechanical things -- stones and trees and sticks of wood -- that even I would not think of. Tomorrow -- they are dumb, witless. You have seen their crystal sticks?"

"Those slender sticks with crystals embedded as saw teeth?" Grayson questioned.

"Ho! Saw teeth, eh? You have not seen. But you will -- and you will ask me if they know anything."

"What are the crystal sticks then?" asked Grayson, watching Polto narrowly. Twenty years among moronic natives, apparently with a native wife --

Matthews voice echoed sharply. "Hey, let go, Throg! You don't want -- Ouch!"

Grayson started toward him at a run, Nelson close behind. Throg had yanked pad and pencil from Matthews with a friendly, brood-toothed grin. "Throg look -- not hurt -- show picture."

Matthews yielded, nursing a wrist bruised by enormously strong fingers. Grayson joined him, Polto and Nelson close behind, and said: "He won't hurt it, he only wants to look, I guess. What's the matter with the ship?"

Matthews nursed his wrist and grunted. "Everything. We hoped to make it with the newly developed antigravity engines Dr. Grayson here helped develop. They were too new. They got us off Earth all right, and the rockets brought us over, but when we started lowering through Venus' mist, it meant hours of continuous run. Not more than ten miles an hour for one hundred and fifty miles -- fifteen hours of steady pull. They didn't stand up. The port radite engine simply failed, and with the other one then under a 180-percent capacity load --

"And to complete the picture, the rotor shaft stabbed a hole in the butt of the port main rocket tube. I was trying to figure a patch. We might get out to space and signal help if we could do that."

Throg touched Matthews' hand, and the Earthman jerked away uneasily. The native merely wanted to return the notebook and pencil, which the pilot accepted.

Matthews looked at the page Throg had been working on and stared. "Hey. Hey, Grayson, look."

* * *

Grayson looked. On one page was the rough sketch Matthews had done. On the other was Throg's effort. The lines were jerky and wavered like a child's work; the powerful native didn't have the delicate neuro-muscular coordination of a Terrestrian. But the drawing was recognizable -- or almost.

"Why, it's a representation of a cross-section of a radite engine! Where --" Hastily Grayson turned through the other pages of the notebook to find the original Throg had copied. There was none.

"They do those things." Polto shrugged. "They're nuts."

Grayson looked at the sketch more closely. "Matthews," he whispered softly, "this is not quite a radite engine. That's in a new aspect to the rotor there . . . and . . . by all that's holy, that's a design I didn't think of, but should have -- because it's better!"

Throg grunted suddenly and snatched the book. Crude lines built a square box about part of the engine, then he turned a page and sketched rapidly. Below the sketch he marked in scrawled, shaky symbols a mathematical expression of some kind. With a self-satisfied grunt he returned it to Grayson. Grayson stared bewilderedly at the sketch. Softly he heard Polto's "They're nuts," and heard him wander off toward the xyll. Nelson was wandering off, too.

Grayson felt his mind was wandering off. The new sketch was another version of the radite engine, with yet another difference. The mathematical symbols below didn't make sense at all, because he'd never seen any like them. He stared at them in puzzlement, because he knew perfectly well that morons didn't do mathematics.

Throg grabbed the pencil and pad, and sketched some more. When he returned it, Grayson stared again. There was another line of crude mathematical symbols, only this time the symbols made sense because they were familiar. But the equation wasn't. He thought a long time, changing, rearranging, reducing, before he understood. Then he looked at the radite engine sketch.

"Matt, they may be nuts, or I may be nuts, but that thing isn't. You see that coil? Look at this expression here. It's a wholly new development from the gravity line repulser theory, and it shows that this coil will act as a self-exciter. With that modification, we coud run one radite engine at half speed and get all the effect we wanted, once we'd built up the field, and we'd build up a lot faster."

Matthews stared. "But we haven't got one engine -- or part of one -- and I can't pilot the ship with only one tube in action, either. That's worth another fortune to you if you can get back to Earth -- but not a damn thing here."

Regretfully, Grayson recognized the truth of it. Throg's friendly, self-satisfied grin had gone to a doleful expression that curiously matched Grayson's feelings. The scientist looked at the brute man with a deeper puzzlement, a deeper wonderment as to the source of the queer and highly technical information. These natives were not human; perhaps their laws of inheritance were different, perhaps they could inherit buried technical knowledge, the knowledge that, ages before, perhaps, their ancestors had developed and forgotten somehow, in between. It might be that only when two halves of the necessary information came together in some scattered genes of inheritance did that inherited memory survive.

Somewhere there, in the more tropical parts of Venus perhaps, there might be mighty ruined cities, relics of a vast, forgotten civilization. Grayson stared southward, toward the slightly more brilliant southward and sunward horizon.

* * *


Grayson started out of his reverie as Matthews snapped his name. "Eh?"

"Listen! Do you hear what I hear?"

Grayson cocked his ears. There was a sound, a queer wailing and rising and falling of the flutelike notes that he could associate with nothing he had heard on Earth or Mars -- nor anywhere in the Solar System. With a start, he saw that the natives were all prostrated. Nelson, stolid old Nelson even, seemed to be startled into immobility.

Throg, alone of all the morons, was on his feet. "Comes Queen," he intoned.

"You speak English?" Grayson asked, amazed.

Only gutterals answered him. There was no sense to it at all.

Polto came over from where he had been crouching. "Theresa," he croaked. "She come."

"What in --" Grayson commenced, then checked himself. It was no time to lose his temper. Nelson was standing near a huge chunk of the carcass of the xyll.

The wailing notes rose and fell weirdly. A procession was on its way. The natives, face down in the soggy marshland, did not move. Nelson walked over to where Grayson and Matthews were standing. The air of the place was filled with the sound which could not be associated with anything in any of their experiences or minds. It was a hypnotizing, unnatural, and mystifying rhythm.

The word "nuts" was once more on Grayson's lips, but he couldn't say it. To be honest with himself he had to admit in his mind that he did not like the sound of this wail.

Nearer and nearer came the unearthly music, if music it was. It the distance there were jungles and vistas such as the men had never seen.

Giant natives appeared, hairy of chest and with rippling muscles, but with the same vacant eyes the first had exhibited. The wail of the instruments they carried was like a dirge; it rose and fell in a cadence which could be compared with nothing before heard by any of the Earthmen. In the midst of the procession was a sedan chair, or what might be likened to one, had it been on Earth. Four natives had the thing in their hands, carrying its seemingly precious occupant.

Theresa! Queen of the planet Venus. Grayson wondered what she would be. Some half-breed daughter of Polto -- They were about to see her.

The palanquin, or whatever it might be called, was set down with great ceremony by its bearers. A tall, sinuous brunette stepped out. Grayson distinctly heard Matthews gasp. She was beautiful, this self-styled queen of a race of morons. She was only a young girl, but unquestionably of purely Earth parents.

"Down!" the girl snapped. "Before Theresa all protrate."

But Matthews did not go to his knees before her at that. He only gazed at her raptly -- like a sick calf, Grayson thought.

"So -- I said, 'Down,' " repeated the black-eyed queen.

Servitors of the native assembage waved fans and tall rods with bubblelike appendages before her flushed face. Prostrating themselves, all of them, including Throg now.

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