Sunday, March 7, 2010

"The Morons" by Harl Vincent, part 5

This is the fifth and final 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 the Dragon, 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. Grayson is astonished when Throg takes a pen and paper and draws an improved version of his ship's engine. Theresa, the queen of the Venusians, arrives, and the three Earthmen are equally astonished to discover that she is an Earth woman. They learn that she is Polto's daughter, born just after his wife died in the wreck of his ship.

When a large carnivore attacks Theresa she kills it with a crude weapon made of a tree limb with bits of crystal and metal attached. She tells them it is a heat ray invented by Throg. The Earthmen question Throg, who is unable to explain where his advanced knowledge comes from. He then writes a long series of equations in Matthews' notebook, and after a long night of calculations Grayson figures out that the equations describe twelve different methods of unleashing atomic energy . . .

* * *

They tackled Throg eventually, when Polto had finally induced the native to sit down near the ship for a while. Nelson finally turned the trick; he had some of his favorite rock candy stowed away somewhere aboard the Dragon, crystallized sugar as hard as stone. The moron sat down and sucked it with beaming joy on his broad, stupid face. He growled something.

Polto made a wry face. "It was a so-brilliant idea, your engineer's. But now he can't click his tongue, and nobody, not even I, can understand him. He will not stop. I still do not believe what you say. These people are wholly crazy. That insanity of ashes in the sky and being too cold and liking it when the temperature here never varies ten degrees."

"Hm-m-m," said Matthews suddenly, and sat down.

"Throg, what do you mean about the ashes and the flames and going into the big house?" Grayson asked patiently.

Throg grinned amiably. "Dunno. Crazy, I guess."

Polto shrugged his shoulders and turned away.

For a solid hour they questioned Throg, while his answers became gradually more intelligible as the lump of rock candy dissolved. Finally, Grayson had worked a complete circle back to the ashes and flame.

This time Throg grinned amiably and shook his head. "No." The guttural clacking of his native language sputtered out in a broken stream.

"He's changed his mind," sighed Polto resignedly, rather annoyedly. "He says the ashes and flame aren't there at all. And it isn't cold, it's too hot; all the trees and grass are burning like ashes in a fire, and he likes it. They are," he announced determinedly, "crazy."

"No," said Matthews softly. "Not at all. Ask Throg if this is right." He thrust the series of formulas at the moronic giant.

Throg grinned, looked at it blankly for a moment, and shook his head. With a pencil he scrawled over it, crossing it out, and turned the page. He set down a dozen mathematical symbols of an entirely new type, then two more lines. Grayson groaned.

"Throg . . . Throg, draw the engine," snapped Matthews. "Candy, and we leave you alone . . . draw the machine."

Grayson stared at Matthews in amazement. Polto turned on him a gaze of whimsical questioning that made Matthews answer in self-defense. "No, I'm not crazy, Polto. I think . . . I think I get it. If I'm right, it's crazier than you ever thought."

Throg was scrawling lines and drawings on the sheet, holding the pencil like a dagger in his huge, brawny fist. Sudden crackling gutturals came forth, as he looked up in amiable understanding, and then bent over his work.

"Now," said Polto, "he says there aren't any big houses any more. They were long ago and not good."

"Inherited memory!" Grayson gasped, grasping Matthews' arm savagely. "Memories from a long-forgotten civilization!"

"Memories hell!" snapped Matthews.

Throg looked up again for a moment. Again the harsh syllables of his own language came forth, then once more he was laboring over the drawing.

"He said he'd show you how the crystal stick works now," Polto explained. "He 'has the knowingness now,' as he puts it."

Throg handed Grayson the notebook, looked toward Nelson eagerly, and mouthed, "Candy?" laboriously.

Grayson shook his head in bewilderment. "This isn't anything I can imagine. It must be that crystal-stick thing, but it doesn't look like it. It's simple enough -- a few tubes of metal and glass -- a couple of coils and a crystal oscillator of some sort --"

"Throg, what is that machine for?" asked Matthews sharply.

"He said, 'You go away,' I think," Polto reported.

"Give him the candy, Nels," said Matthews. "I think we go home!"

"What do you mean, Matt? What is this?" Grayson asked.

Matthews was hurriedly examining the drawing. A few very simple little parts, a curiously designed oscillator, and a series of coils, and some queerly designed controls. "Gray, look at that. That's a control lever obviously, isn't it?"

"Yes . . . Si --" Polto answered as well.

"All right. Now, pray tell, what kind of a hand would grip that controller, please?"

Grayson stared. The grip indicated -- very clearly indicated -- could obviously be held by no human hand! It was a quadruple control, with obvious placement for eight independent digits!

"Throg," asked Matthews, "what color is the fire in the sky?"

* * *

He grunted a single syllable, then three more. Polto turned and looked sharply at old Nels, then gasped. "He says -- like Nelson's shirt!"

Nelson looked down at his chest in surprise, rather stupidly lifted eyebrows startled at the idea. His shirt was a very bright blue, almost violet.

Matthews grinned. "Get it?" he asked at length.

"No! In the name of Heaven what is the answer?" demanded Grayson.

"That gadget he drew -- I'm beginning to see what it is," Matthews explained. "He crossed out all the work he did last night, and wrote those new formulas. The last two he translated to our mathematical system. I can recognize two parts of them -- one from last night's efforts, and one from your equations of the gravity repulser. That gadget turns the energy of atoms directly into gravity repulsion, or, if you change the setting just a little -- a repulsion beam. Throg said 'You go away' because he meant that's what we'd do. He likes candy, but for two days we've been pestering blazes out of him. He'll be glad to see the last of us. That's our new drive system -- three sheets of tin, and a homemade oscillator, or I'm a Dutchman."

"But how . . . how . . . how does he know?" stammered Grayson.

"Look. Last 'night' he talked about going in the big house because it was cold, but he liked cold, and about the ashes in the sky going out and the flame going out. Then he wrote down those atomic equations we never would have guessed at.

"Now, my friends, watch." Matthews continued, and stood silently looking at Throg. Throg turned leisurely and crackled his queer language to Polto.

"He says now that he has two hands on one hand and four feet and two feet and one foot. I know he is crazy," said Polto hopelessly.

"And I," said Matthews, "thought the question 'How many fingers and toes has the one who told you about this machine you drew?' He's a moron -- but, like many Terrestrial morons, he's a telepath. Many of his race are, seemingly. And telepathy is queer -- it doesn't weaken over any distance, so far as is known. You know the earliest Terrestrial experiments . . . the later Mars-Earth experiments. All faulty, all utterly unreliable -- but all equally good. Distance doesn't matter.

"Somewhere in space, there's a planet circling a double-sun system, one of which stars is red -- like dying ashes, and one of which is yellow -- like flames, and the people live in huge buildings. And . . . those people know a great deal about atomic power. Last night our moronic telepath was picking up the thoughts of some scientist unguessable billions of miles away. Perhaps even in another galaxy.

"That crystal weapon?" Matthews went on to explain. "They picked up the thoughts of the race that doesn't live in great buildings any more -- all that was long ago to them -- and lives under a sun as blue as Nels' shirt. And they know tremendously more, even, than the race of the twin suns. Throg crossed out their elementary equations. You'll find, I'll bet, that these are a thousand times further advanced. And this machine gets us home . . . . Polto, do they have any other gadgets like the crystal weapon?"

Polto was thinking deeply, with constant waves of surprise and comprehension chasing over his mobile face. He burst into Italian at a speed the two Americans could scarcely follow: "They have, they have, they have! I . . . I am the crazy one. I am crazier than I even thought they were! They have a thing made out of crystals and stones and scraps of metal from my ship and bits of bark. They put a crystal stick in one part of it, press the catch, and the ray is absorbed by the crystal without burning. But if they strap the contraption onto the carcass of a xyll, it floats so that a few men can tow it through the jungle!"

"Simple, eh?" said Matthews. "They are morons, with the poor neuro-muscular co-ordination of the moron, and the low concentrative powers. But they have at their command the knowledge of the greatest minds of the Universe. The simple things, they make. A bow and arrow are simple. They make them. But a transformer is simple too -- just wrap wire around a chunk of iron -- no matter how complex the electromagnetic theory is.

"The theory of their crystal-stick weapon is beyond us, but the mechanics of the actual gadget is well within their simple limits."

Grayson groaned. "We can do -- but they can know. Matt . . . Matt, you take Polto and Theresa and Nels back to Earth -- you can easily enough with that drive -- and bring back an expedition with psychologists. I'll study here. But hurry. I want the psychologists to help --"

Polto roared in anger. "Take me back! You ship me from my Venus! I wait here twenty years, me, alone with my Theresa waiting, and now . . . now when something interesting is found, then you . . . you Americans who have just come, you try to drive me out! No! No, by ten thousand devils no! I stay. I will not go whatever! You shall go. I shall study. I shall learn, learn, learn again at last like a true scientist should!"

Matthews grinned. "Nels, you don't want to stay?"

Old Nelson grinned back. "Not if I can help it. If that thing works --"

"It'll work. Probably the best engineers within this galaxy -- and perhaps the next one, for all we know -- designed it. And --"

Theresa came over toward them. Throg, sucking a block of candy, was leading her. "Gooobugh," said Throg. He turned back into the jungle, a half dozen other natives disappearing with him.

Theresa looked up at the Americans. "Throg said you wanted me," she said in a half-timid tone.

"You want to go to Earth?" asked Matthews.

Theresa looked up at him doubtfully. "Maybe you tell me about it first, eh?"

Grayson snorted softly. Theresa would go all right, and Matthews would do a job of telling her about Earth. He looked at Polto. Polto stuck out his straggly gray beard and solemnly nodded.

"She go," he said softly.


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