The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Genius, by Con Pederson and Paul Orban

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Title: The Genius

Author: Con Pederson
        Paul Orban

Release Date: June 17, 2010 [EBook #32861]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1


Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at


By Con Pederson

Illustrated by Paul Orban

[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from IF Worlds of Science Fiction May 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Sethos was a great artist, a talented man, quite possibly the most famous man of his time and world. But, alas!—there were other worlds. And is not the grass always greener...?

Sethos entered the park. Brown autumn leaves crumpled sharply beneath his feet, the green grass sank. The sun was nearly gone, and the last of the children passed him, chattering as they faded into the twilight. Only one other person remained in the park, and she was waiting for Sethos.

"Ela," he said. "Have you been here long?"

She touched his cheek with hers in greeting.

"Not at all. I'm in no hurry." She handed him a cigarette as they walked together, then lit her own and breathed deeply of the scented fumes. "Nothing special about Matya's parties—unless she has that intriguing man there again. What's his name? You know—"

"You must mean Andian, the sculptor. The man who built North Square, to hear him talk. What about him?"

Ela laughed. "He'd never heard of my fluid porcelain. Isn't that silly? After everyone in West has been overwhelmed with the color effects, he turns up, a perfect innocent. I showed him pliables."

Smiling, Sethos recalled it was Ela's enthusiasm that had first attracted him, as it had most of the males in their clique. Then too, she was beautiful, with startling gold hair and a delicate round face that always aroused flattery. Tonight he felt especially aware of her beside him, and the quick beat of her sandals on the pavement.

The lights of Matya's hillhouse gleamed before them, enticing all who wandered through West Park this evening. The party had started, as parties always did, at that unknown instant shortly before the first guest's arrival. It was thriving now, for the colors behind the contoured glass facade throbbed as though underwater, and people sat along the terraced hillside, talking and inhaling the elegant smoke from smoldering chalices that stood around the entrance.

They climbed the flagstone path toward the low, pale yellow building. Luxuriant plants grew thick along the walls, creating a jungle that extended even to the inner rooms of the house.

"Sethos, my friend!" said an unsteady voice.

The old man was seated in shadow by the house, a glass of sparkling liquor on the arm of his chair. Against the green background of giant plants, his frail, pink face resembled a huge bud that would open when daylight came.

"How are you, Paton?" Sethos asked warmly. "I remember you from somewhere in East. It must be years.... Weren't you gardening with Ana? Of course—developing a perfect Lyocanthia. What a welcome sight you are among these woodcutters!"

"You're a fellow greensman now, they say," beamed Paton happily, seizing his glass and leaning forward. "Such an honor to us. You work with succulents—right?"

Sethos smiled. He watched Ela disappear into the interior of the sprawling hillhouse, heard her distant laugh become part of the machinery of voices. People drifted to and fro across the broad lawns.

"Yes," answered Sethos, drawing up a chair. "Succulents are my latest joy. One must specialize. I like to work with growing things, yet I'd feel like a mechanoid if I got involved in crystal sculpture, like my charming Ela there."

"Perhaps—but who else gets such color, starts so many new directions as she? My flowers blush before her crystals." Paton's glass was empty, and with an automatic gesture, Sethos refilled it from a tall flask standing nearby, and poured one for himself.

"Speaking of mechanoids," Paton continued genially, "I had a most stimulating conversation with Mr. First himself a few days ago. He came to see me."

Sethos blinked. That was unusual—mechanoids seldom mingled with humans, especially those of the primary levels.

"He's very intelligent about flowers," Paton went on, waving his glass in animation. "We talked about common hedge roses. Did you know he raises them?"

"Amazing!" Sethos drank deeply of the fiery liquor. Now the drifting plumes of smoke from the chalices performed fantasies with his vision, and his body felt light again, as it had so often in the evenings of the past few years.

"Of course I was flattered, having a visit from the most prime mechanoid. He could have called me, but they are somewhat conscious of being mechanical as it is, and try to be cordial as possible."

Sethos leaned forward eagerly. "Did he say anything about—their activities?"

"Well, that's not too interesting to me, because it's always just one change after another outside. He did say there is a new earth-bridge between the continents. Doesn't it seem incredible that they should want to go to all that trouble? But then, that's a mechanoid for you. Always making things bigger. That's why I enjoy seeing Mr. First take up flowers. Maybe he sees things our way himself."

"I don't suppose you've ever been out there, have you?"

"Out there? You mean, where the mechanoids live? Why, now that you mention it, I believe I was, once. But a long time ago—I must have been still living with my elders. It's not very enjoyable. Too big to call home, after all." With a short laugh, Paton emptied his glass again.

Sethos frowned. The idea that the world was so large fascinated him. As his contemporaries and their ancestors for unknown generations, Sethos had passed from dreamy childhood directly into the dream of adult life. He could barely recall the days of education, when drugged smoke and liquor were withheld, and life consisted of a different fairy world. How he had loved the gay mechanoid nurses, with their tinkling arms and bright colors! But of their world, the vast reaches of the planet outside the tiny circle of men, he knew very little. One fact was plain to him: it was unthinkably huge.

Sudden music poured from the house, gay and fast.

"Ha! The dancers!" exclaimed Paton, seeing the rows of gyrating figures beyond a pink translucent wall. "You must excuse me. I promised Matya I would watch her dance tonight."

Paton hurried away, leaving Sethos to wander along the dimly lighted terrace. The party had lightened his senses as expected, yet his thoughts were heavy. He remembered the library, and the strange legends in the books. Legends of ancient cities of men, over all the earth, and of the prehistoric machines used by men to travel great distances. And always in the old legends men were very much like the industrious mechanoids—ever building, ever moving....

How he wished he might live in those days! He knew the pleasure of creating, for he had been acclaimed a genius in music before he was twenty, and his mastery of painting and architecture had won the admiration of all the human zone. Still, he was not satisfied, and often lay awake in the early hours of morning after a stirring party, dreaming of those long-gone days of empire, when he could have ridden with the ancients through the sky on their winged craft, see their cities rise toward the clouds, experience the exciting pace of that life. What remarkable ambitions they must have had!

As Sethos reached the end of the terrace, he was hailed by a garmenter named Brin, standing with a group of men around a light projector. The colors sprayed up about their faces, matching the gaudy orange of Brin's trousers and the blue of his little plumed hat.

"Greetings, Sethos! How are the crops up North? Still live with Ela?"

"They're fine, Brin. Live with Ela? No more than anyone else these days."

Brin chuckled. "A neat remark, Seth—I must remember it to your true love the next time I have reason to see her."

The men laughed appreciatively, the colors wheeling in rhythm across their grinning faces.

Suddenly three young women converged on the group, having spied Sethos from inside.

"Oh, Sethos!" one cried. "How wonderful you're here!"

"Are you still composing that magnificent diphonic music?" asked another breathlessly.

Grimly, he realized he was trapped again. Every party brought on something like this. How could he explain to these well-meaning girls that he was trying to forget the past, that it bored him, that his music was trite and his painting insipid? Still they would clamor for it.

"Excuse me," muttered Sethos, walking away. His ears rang with their adulation, but it always sickened him. Efforts he considered nothing at all were worshiped by the others. It was demoralizing.

Following the path around the corner, he descended from the noise of the house, opening his mouth and inhaling the cool night air as though to cleanse his lungs. He was growing extremely weary of the people at parties.

From here he could see the town laid out below, the four directions of it, and he tried to guess how many times he had walked each street one end to the other, then turned around and walked back, simply because no one ever considered going straight on.

At that moment a tall, lean man approached him. He was a stranger, with a bearing Sethos did not recognize.

"How do you do, Sethos," he said softly. "I understand you are the most accomplished of your group. May I ask a few questions?"

Someone from across town, obviously. He knew the type—they traveled between the cliques, learning of new trends and ideas to pirate. He had done it once himself.

"I'm sorry. I don't have any new goodies for your side of town. Why don't you go in and pester Brin? He's always easy to tap."

"You misjudge me. I'm not interested in stealing ideas."

"I know, I know. But I'm not for sale anyway."

Angered, Sethos turned and strode down the hill. The nerve of these apprentices, he thought. Some day they'll ask for autographed samples.

He stopped. A small autocar had caught his attention. On a wild impulse, he opened the door. "Good evening, little servant," he said gently.

The desire to move came on him more strongly now. Stooping, he got in, the seat cushions adjusting automatically to his posture, and a voice somewhere in the drive panel said, "Direction, please."

Yes—where to? He didn't know. But he had to get away.

"Straight ahead," he ordered, hoping the machine would make the best of it.

As he rode, he wondered desperately what was wrong with him. He was easily the most talented of men, yet he was unhappy. Perhaps it was because they all treated him so adoringly that he was tired of them. He saw nowhere that drive which was so strong in him, the urge to go on to bigger things. He had sought it in his friends many times before, but gave up when no one knew what he meant. Even as a child his elders said he should have been born a mechanoid. It was a jest that was deathly true.

Trees flashed by, but as Sethos watched, they slowed in their flight, and he realized the car was stopping.

"I'm sorry, this is zone," said the car. "I can go no further. Redirection, or shall I cruise at random?"

He started to affirm, but something stopped him.

Barely visible ahead were the first low, dark buildings of the mechanoid world.

"No," he answered. "I'm getting out here."

He left the car, walking forward rapidly until the headlights no longer lighted his path. The trees began to thin out, and his feet struck concrete. He knew he was beyond the general limits of human activity.

Fear came, now that he was in that land where men never walked. The buildings loomed around him, forbidding and dark. Further down the street the lights began, spaced at intervals on the walls.

"Your attention, please," said a voice at his shoulder. He recoiled, noticing for the first time a small yellow mechanoid rolling silently beside him. Its face screen watched him steadily.

"May I remind you that this is no longer the human zone? I can whistle an autocar for you, if you wish."

Sethos felt a twinge of terror as he said, "No, thank you," and continued to walk.

Now it will begin, he thought. They'll be on me every block. Turn back. No, don't give up now. What can I lose? They won't hurt me—it's just a matter of regulation. They can't do anything to me for disobedience.

Looking up, he saw stars between the clouds. For a moment he could imagine that perhaps, once upon a time, men must have longed to reach out in some way across the tremendous distance to the stars. It was a strange sensation, this longing for something obviously unattainable.

"Hello," said another voice. "Are you lost?"

Sethos glanced at the new figure that accompanied him. It was human in shape, but the fact that it skated on rollers betrayed its nature.

"No. I'm ... just walking." His voice sounded small and guilty in the strange city.

"I see. For exercise?"

"No—I mean, not exactly. Well, I wanted to see what things were like outside our zone."

"Our course."

He won't stop me, Sethos thought with determination.

"Are you someone I should know?" he asked.

"Tenth level," the mechanoid replied, whirring sedately along beside him. "I was notified five minutes ago by a circuit walker. He said he offered to radio for a vehicle, but you did not wish to return."

"That's right." Sethos was nervous now, but maintained his even step. They had gone three blocks together, and still he would not slow down.

"Tell me, Mr. Tenth," Sethos said, trying to appear calm, "do people—often walk as I'm doing?"

"No, not often." Mr. Tenth took a step across a small puddle, then resumed skating.

"What happens if I get tired of walking?"

"I can direct you to Mr. Third's office, if you won't mind. He handles such things."

"And suppose I keep going?"

"You'll be followed by an autocar that will pick you up whenever you get tired."

"I intend to keep going," Sethos said, his teeth clenched.

"Very well." The mechanoid rolled away.

Sethos was entering the heart of the city. As far as he could see, the streets led off into the distance, with the gleaming lights that lined the buildings on either side diminishing until they merged at a far vanishing point.

How far does it go? he wondered, overwhelmed. Maybe if I go far enough, I'll find another community like our own, with men living in it! What a discovery that would be!

The low hanging clouds threw back the city's glow as far as he could see.

In the streets there were now several mechanoids, and their number increased as he went. Some were prime mechanoids, and resembled humans, rolling along the slower traffic lanes. Others were specialized workers, with longer arms or a number of arms, or with a truck body instead of legs. In fact, he saw every gradation between prime mechanoid and service vehicle. A bizarre parade!

A strange little apparatus with three wheels stopped before Sethos. "Your attention, please," it said. "You are now one-half mile from zone. The time is eleven-twenty p.m."

It occurred to him to watch for more tenth level mechanoids, and he saw three immediately, moving with him several yards away. An autocar cruised patiently.

"You are heading due west, on Street 751 West, at a speed of three and eight tenths miles per hour."

He saw the mechanoid with three wheels again, clocking him helpfully.

"Go away," he said.

His breath came hard; he was not used to walking such a distance.

How long can I last? If I keep going, I'll get hungry, and there won't be any food. They don't serve food out here. I can go until I drop from exhaustion. Then they'll take me back ... ask me if I want therapy.

He would refuse, then try it again later. He would try it day after day, probably, maybe getting a little further each time, and each time the mechanoids would patiently bring him back. On and on ... until he requested therapy....

"You are now one mile from zone," said his clocker. "The time is eleven-twenty-eight p.m."

The lights burned on into the distance. His legs were beginning to ache, but still the urge to cross the city was intense.

Maybe I'll go till I come to the ocean, he thought, sucking his breath. He had seen pictures of the ocean, that featureless blue with its concrete wall stretching away for thousands of miles.

A mechanoid stood on a corner, pointing back. So that was the next trick! Helpful, hinting.... He saw another, showing the way home.

He grew angry. It'll be a battle of nerves. They'll get nicer and nicer to me, until I can't stand it any more.

He concentrated on the lights, watching them pass one by one. That helped.

"Please note your return route."

He wondered if they had missed him at the party.

"There is an autocar at your service."

They would be preparing to eat the midnight meal, now, he remembered. The foodmakers would emerge from the kitchens and steal the show in their performance of taste appeal, warm odors, rare dishes....

"You are heading due west, on Street 751 West, at a speed of three and six tenths miles per hour."

It seemed cold. The mechanoids did not have thermostat stations, for they did not need them. He shivered slightly.

"You are now two miles from zone. The time is eleven-forty-five p.m."

The lights. Watch the lights.

"Please submit any request for information here."

He was panting, and his legs felt weak.

"There is an autocar...."

It was useless. Shutting his eyes tight, he stopped.

"All right. Let's go."

"Good evening," said Mr. Third.

Sethos seated himself in a contour chair in the center of the softly lighted office. From behind a curving desk, the brain of a slender metal cylinder observed the young man before it, checked by radio with five Mr. Tenths in the space of three and one fifth seconds as to the incident's details. Then Mr. Third folded his plastic arms and studied the short brown hair and dark eyes, the lean face and straight nose. Human features always fascinated him.

"I'm the human coordinator, Sethos. You know why you're here, don't you?"

Sethos nodded.

"Everyone learns that sometime," Mr. Third remarked. "In a certain number of births there is a percentage who are of higher intelligence. These are the restless ones whom we cannot discourage developmentally as easily as the others. They usually have to request therapy to adjust. So your case is not new."

Sethos lit a cigarette. He knew the story, but coming from a third level prime mechanoid it was all the more impressive.

"All right, I'm inquisitive. Why must we have therapy? Why do we have to stay in our zone?"

Mr. Third paused. He recognized challenge in the young man before him, and tried to estimate his will power.

"Did you know that there was on the earth, long ago, lower forms of life called animals? And that man once specified these and contained them in cages, from which they were denied exit?"

"I have read of their place in our biological evolution, but of course they are before the time of records."

"Well, we know very little about this practice or its use, but it's similar to what we have here, I believe. We mechanoids are not concerned with history, having only one structural law which was built into us by your ancestors, and it cannot be superseded. We must preserve man in the state he existed when we were created. We cannot impede his activities—unless they peril his stability, which we maintain precisely, as you know. It is impossible, you see, for us to allow man to change or expand. We have fulfilled that obligation, and continue to fulfill it. There are no alternatives whatever."

"I can't see what they had in mind when they made you that way. It sounds insane."

"Don't ask why—that is no longer important. We cannot question what is fundamental to all our operations, the factor present in every formula we must work. Our mechanoid civilization is gigantic, by your standards, but it is flawless. Once set in motion, such a system is impenetrable. All individuals are their allotted part of the entirety, no more, no less. It is beautiful concept, you'll agree?"

"You must get terribly bored," Sethos said humorlessly.

"That word has no meaning for us. Now—do you request therapy?"

Sethos was startled. He had expected the question, and knew there was little point in refusing. Yet he hesitated. The desire to learn was strong.

Before he could reply, a door opened and another mechanoid rolled in.

"You didn't whistle, Mr. First," said Mr. Third to the newcomer. "Something on your mind?"

Sethos noted that they spoke aloud for his benefit. He inhaled reflectively of his cigarette.

"A mutual friend of ours is here," said the first level prime.

"The one we've been expecting?" asked Mr. Third.

"That's right. I see you have a young fellow here—out walking?"

Sethos nodded, wondering what visitor they could have. Perhaps a mechanoid from another continent—but still such a mechanoid would be in perpetual contact anyway.

"Good—come along. It'll save the gentleman some time. He's looking for this sort of thing."

"Save him some time! He's in a hurry?" interrupted Sethos.

"For this man, time is very important," said Mr. First gravely.

"Where is he now?" asked Third.

"In my office, studying the vocabulary. Shall we go over?"

More curious than ever, Sethos followed the mechanoids down the corridor to a slide. Holding the rail, he felt the car surge through its shaft at a tremendous speed.

They emerged into the first level office. Two other first level mechanoids sat reading formulated material, while near the center stood a tall man, his eyes on a page of printed matter in his hands. He had no hair, and wore only a simple gray cloak over a white, loose-fitting one-piece suit. Sethos regarded his graceful appearance and sophisticated demeanor.

"Hello," he said, looking up. "I am Hol."

Sethos nodded cautiously. "My name is Sethos."

For a moment, Hol looked at the two Mr. Firsts reading, then at the one standing. There seemed to be some sort of communication between them. Then he spoke again.

"Are you discontented with your culture?"

"Of course. I don't believe man's curiosity should be restricted."

"I see. What do you propose in this case?"

Sethos was perplexed. He had not dreamed of a possible solution. But perhaps there was one!

"I don't know. If mechanoid control could be removed, I think humans would expand over all the planet. Then they could progress by themselves."

"Do you think they can?"

"What do you mean?"

"Do you think humans can progress further—without mechanoids?"

Further—so that was it. The creation of mechanoids must represent the height of human development. Which meant they were necessary to going on, reaching the stars....

"You mean, if humans could work with mechanoids, we could even travel to other worlds and spread throughout the universe?"

"He's getting close to the 'matter masters matter' principle," mused Mr. Third. "It's growth through extension, Sethos, a universal. Not just 'human'—man isn't alone in the universe."

Sethos did not understand. But another thought struck him.

"Just a moment, Hol. I've never seen you before. Where are you from?"

"From Antares System. I am an ethnographer, making a survey of the planets of man's early history."

Sethos was stunned.

"You—you are from out in space? From the stars?"

"That is correct. Man lives everywhere in the universe. But as Mr. Third said, that may be misleading."

Sethos disregarded the comment. It didn't matter if he were alone or not, at least he was there—man in the universe!

"I have completed a section of my work here. It is necessary to speak with the first level alone, if possible," said Hol.

"Of course," said Mr. Third. "Sethos, there is a vehicle in the hall. Will you return home until you wish to contact us about therapy? You have clearance to come in directly when you decide."

"Yes—yes, certainly."

In his shock he was barely conscious of an autocar hurtling through the dark streets, the familiar trees of West Park looming above him. Then, once more he saw the lights at Matya's, heard the noise and laughter.

Stepping from the autocar, Sethos felt the night breeze on his face. He looked upward at the sky, saw the stars like fierce eyes that had been watching all along. The revelation was too much to take, he thought. Suddenly Earth itself, so vastly greater than the small reservation of men, and short hours ago a veritable infinity, seemed tiny and insignificant.

"Why, Sethos! Where have you been?"

It was Paton's voice. The old man stood alone on the path.

"Paton, you couldn't guess what has happened. It's incredible!"

"Come up and get a drink, boy. You look exhausted. I was alarmed when I found you'd left."

Sethos took his arm and faced him squarely.

"Paton—I left the zone, and was taken to Mr. First's office. And do you know who I met? I met a man from the stars! Think of it! A man from other worlds, Paton. Do you realize that human beings have already traveled those fantastic distances, long ago? They must have forgotten about us on Earth!"

"Why, that is amazing. It just goes to show you, there's nothing new under the sun. Come along, and get that drink. I found some exquisite wine."

Sethos stopped. His hand slipped from Paton's arm.

"Paton.... Did you hear what I said? Didn't it penetrate? I said man has reached the stars! We already own the universe...."

"Of course. But I must say I don't know what we want with it all. Won't you join us now? Say, Ela has been looking for you."

"Ela? Yes, Ela. I want to see Ela...."

She came down the walk, and took him by the hands.

"There you are, you elusive boy! I want to go home now. I simply have to adjust my crystals or they'll overflow the bedroom. Oh, Matya! Thank you for a splendid time. I'll be having you over next week, don't forget."

Then they were down from the hill and in the park, and the party flowed on behind them, forgetting.

They were home again, and Ela hurried off to add nutrients to the huge crystal sculpture that was growing in the bedroom. It glowed and vibrated in every color of the spectrum, and strange textures developed at those edges where Ela hovered with a glass dropper and her chemicals, touching, wiping, smoothing....

"Oh, it nearly got away from me over here. I must get these reds to balance, or the whole thing will never refract properly at all. Did you know, Seth—they want to erect it in Central Plaza when I'm finished! Isn't that wonderful?" Her pleased face sparkled as she worked.

Sethos sat on the bed, folding his hands in his lap. Still stunned by Paton's reaction, he gazed absently at the floor.

"Ela, I met a man tonight. He is a very important man."

"Yes, there were so many dolls there. I only wish I had met Andian again. He'd be so jealous if he knew I was acclaimed for exhibition in the Plaza."

"I don't mean at the party."

Ela turned. "Really, dear? Where was he?"

"In the office of Mr. First. He wanted to talk to me."

"You went outside zone? Whatever for?"

Sethos rose and took her shoulders firmly in his hands.

"This man is from another planet, Ela. He told me that people live all over the universe!"

"You don't say!"

"They left the earth a long time ago. They've traveled between the stars for centuries and centuries!"

"That's wonderful, dear. Help me with this pot of dye, will you, Seth?"

Sethos drew back, unbelieving.

"Ela.... The stars are trillions of miles apart. Men have learned to fly between them somehow!"

"It's breathtaking. The dye?"

"Quintillions, some of them! Think of it, Ela!" Sethos was shaking with agitation.

"Dearest," said Ela, moving away from him, "do you think we might move closer to Center after my Plaza crystal is finished? I'd like to be able to look out and see it every morning in the sun...."

She wasn't listening! She didn't care!

"Ela. Ela, love—listen to me! What's wrong with you? Can't you see?" His voice shrank to a whisper.

She smiled tolerantly. "Of course, dear."

"I'm telling you something no one has dreamed of before and you fuss about your crystals! Don't you ever get sick of this little cage? Don't you ever feel like getting out and running away?"


"I'm telling you the earth can be ours! People can live like mechanoids if they'll only wake up and stop their childish play!"

"But why, dear?"

"Why? We were meant to, that's why. Because we've already done it, or someone has. But we're still here, left behind. We've got to catch up!"

"How silly." She returned to her chemicals.

Sethos felt a burning rage seize him. This woman he had loved—she was only a shell, a stick of wood, with no ideas of her own—no curiosity. Nothing! And she didn't have the faintest notion what he was talking about. She didn't care!

Furious, he grasped a heavy bronze ash tray and hurled it, hard as he could, into the mass of shining crystal that filled the room. With an explosive rainbow of color and a reverberating crash, it collapsed under the heavy blow into a million tiny fragments.

He stood, glaring at the scattered shards, waiting for Ela to leap at him, screaming and clawing him for the ruin he had made of her masterpiece.

But she only smiled weakly, and shrugged.

"Dear, that was very irrational. I think you had better request therapy one of these days. Now I shall have to start all over again. But don't fret, sweet. I had a much better idea anyway. I can get sensational results using fluorides."

She wouldn't fight him—she couldn't think of such an act, raised in a world where coercion and violence did not exist. She didn't care about anything!

Calm now, he knew what to do. Striding swiftly from the house, he went straight to the vehicle space. He got into an autocar and slammed the door.

"Direction, please."

"Contact Dispatching. Ask for permission to go directly to first level primary. Tell them it's Sethos."

Pause. "Permission granted."

"Come in, Sethos. What can I do for you?"

Sethos looked around the room anxiously.

"I want to make a request, Mr. First, if it isn't too late."

"Too late?"

"I would like to see Hol before he leaves. Is he still here?"

"Perhaps I can arrange it. His time is budgeted, you understand."

"I must see him."

Mr. First was silent for a moment, and Sethos realized he was contacting someone. Then, he announced, "Yes, he's willing to see you. Go through this door. His compartment is the second down the corridor."

Sethos thanked him and hurried out. Finding the door, he hesitated an instant, then went in.

"Good morning," said Hol.

There was a second man standing beside him, dressed in the same manner and of the same stature as Hol.

"I had to see you," Sethos began hastily, not expecting to encounter two men.

"I see. This is Bek, a field observer. He was at your party last night."

Sethos remembered the stranger he had taken for a spying apprentice on the hillside. He felt embarrassed, but brushed it aside.

"I ... want you to take me with you."

Hol looked at his companion.

"I don't fit here," Sethos went on. "Mr. Third himself said I'm more intelligent than the others—I'm the only one who knows what your visit means. I want to go where people are interested in learning and progress. If I stay here I'll have to fool around with a hobby the rest of my life. There's no work, no expansion. You can see why I have to leave, can't you? I'm the curious type."

"You don't know what you're asking."

"Why? Can't you take me with you? What harm would it do?"

"Well, there are rules."

"But—I'm not just anybody. I'm an exception to the rule. I qualify as a genius—you mean there isn't a place for me somewhere in the universe? Surely you can use a smart man!"

"You are a genius, that's true," said Bek, in a deep, serious voice. "As long as you remain here. Hundreds of centuries ago, your ancestors discovered principles that are not even expressible in your language, and learned to apply them to matter. Soon they knew no boundaries. The earth was not forgotten, but it was no longer important. It still is only a statistic. And we are here to examine it briefly. We have many others to visit.

"You see, Sethos, man changed out in space. He is a long way from your ancestors who started all this. But before those ancient men left, they established Earth as a control planet, to maintain forever a specimen of the original stock. It may have been done out of his egocentric ideas at the time, but it proved wise, for such a specimen is valuable in our research."

"Sethos," said Hol, seeing the bewilderment on the young man's face, "the mechanoids who attend your little community are more than one hundred thousand years old. That is how long your little culture has been faithfully preserved, just as it was then. You would not be capable of living elsewhere in the universe now. You could survive, perhaps, bright as you are, for a century or so, and then die, unhappy, maladjusted, never finding another of your own level. You are, after all, a savage."

Sethos was dazed.

He—an atavism, a prehistoric man! No wonder his people behaved as they did—they were merely a docile herd of caged animals, kept complacent and well-fed by the keepers outside. An extinct beast, left to be tended until the earth reached the end of its course as a flaming speck in the infinite cavern of space!

"You—you must take me! I couldn't stand it now. How can I go back, knowing we're just a miserable experiment? Please—I'll go crazy!"

"Even now you exhibit one of your primitive traits—pride of being a man. But you will adjust to life. It is as it should be."


"I'm sorry. There's nothing we can do."

"No, wait—I...."

The two men were gone.

Sethos stared. He was alone in the room. A constriction grew in his throat, and he felt weak. Indeed, man had changed.


Mr. First stood in the door.


Now the pattern was clear. Sethos—the curious man, the genius—was doomed. He had lost a battle in which he never had a chance. Still, he had fought.

But walking down the corridor with the mechanoid, he knew that no one lost completely. He knew that Sethos, the human, the adjusted hobbyist, would soon look back on this night as though it were an ordinary phase of life.

Then, on the table, with the gently humming mechanism lowered to his head, the knot in his throat softened.

"All yours," said Mr. First to Mr. Third.

"A remarkable case," said Mr. Third. "Sometimes I wish we kept a record of his kind. It might be very interesting."

"Someday, perhaps. When our work grows dull."

End of Project Gutenberg's The Genius, by Con Pederson and Paul Orban


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