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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > That Hideous Strength (Page 15)     
    That Hideous Strength(Cosmic #3) by C.S.Lewis
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    "What on earth are you talking about?"

    "Well, here we've all been working on your behalf, and this morning we thought we'd succeeded. He was talking about giving you the appointment originally intended for you and waiving the probationary period. Not a cloud in the sky: and then you have five minutes' chat with him, and in that time you've managed to undo it all."

    "What the devil's wrong with him this time?"

    "Well you ought to know! Didn't he say something about bringing your wife here?"

    "Yes he did. What about it?"

    "And what did you say?"

    "I said not to bother about it ... and, of course, thanked him very much and all that."

    The Fairy whistled. "Don't you see, honey," she said, gently rapping Mark's scalp with her knuckles, " that you could hardly have made a worse bloomer? It was a most terrific concession for him to make. He's never done it to anyone else. He's burbling away now about lack of confidence. Says he's ' hurt'; takes your refusal as a sign that you are not really ' settled ' here."

    "But that is sheer madness. I mean . . ."

    "Why the blazes couldn't you tell him you'd have your wife here?

    "Isn't that my own business?"

    "Don't you want to have her? You're not very polite to little wifie, Studdock. And they tell me she's a damned pretty girl."

    At that moment the form of Wither, slowly sauntering in their direction, became apparent to both, and the conversation ended.

    At dinner he sat next to Filostrato, and as they rose from the table he whispered in Mark's ear, "I would not advise the Library for you to-night. You understand ? Come and have a little conversation in my room."

    Mark followed him, glad that in this new crisis with the D.D. Filostrato was apparently still his friend. They went up to the Italian's sitting-room on the first floor. There Mark sat down before the fire, but his host continued to walk up and down the room.

    "I am very sorry, my young friend," said Filostrato, " to hear of this new trouble between you and the Deputy Director. It must be stopped, you understand? If he invite you to bring your wife here why do you not bring her?"

    "Well, really," said Mark, "I never knew he attached so much importance to it." His objection to having Jane at Belbury had been temporarily deadened by the wine he had drunk at dinner and the pang he had felt at the threat of expulsion from the library circle.

    "It is of no importance in itself," said Filostrato. "But have reason to believe it came not from Wither but from the Head himself."

    "The Head ? You mean Jules?"

    "Jules?" said Filostrato. "Why do you speak of him? As for your wife, I attach no importance to it. What have I to do with men's wives? The whole subject disgusts me. But if they make a point of it ... Look, my friend, the real question is whether you mean to be truly at one with us or no."

    "I don't quite follow," said Mark.

    "Do you want to be a mere hireling? But you have already come too far in for that. If you try to go back you will be as unfortunate as the fool Hingest. If you come really in-the world . . . bah, what do I say? ... the universe is at your feet."

    "But of course I want to come in," said Mark. A certain excitement was stealing over him.

    "The Head will have all of you, and all that is yours-or else nothing. You must bring the woman in too. She also must be one of us."

    This remark was a shock, yet at that moment, fixed with the little, bright eyes of the Professor, he could hardly make the thought of Jane real to himself.

    "You shall hear it from the lips of the Head himself," said Filostrato suddenly.

    "Is Jules here?" said Mark.

    Filostrato turned sharply from him and flung back the window curtains; the full moon stared down upon them.

    '' There is a world for you, no?" said Filostrato. '' There is cleanness, purity. Thousands of square miles of polished rock with not one blade of grass, not one fibre of lichen, not one grain of dust. Not even air."

    "Yes. A dead world," said Mark, gazing at the moon. "No!"said Filostrato. "No. There is life there."

    "Do we know that?" asked Mark.

    "Oh, yes. Intelligent life. Under the surface. A great race, further advanced than we. A pure race. They have cleaned their world, broken free (almost) from the organic."

    "But how--?"

    "They do not need to be born and breed and die; only their common people, their canaglia do that. The Masters live on. They retain their intelligence: they can keep it artificially alive after the organic body has been dispensed with-a miracle of applied biochemistry. They do not need organic food. They are almost free of Nature, attached to her only by the thinnest, finest cord."

    "Do you mean that all that," Mark pointed to the mottled white globe of the moon, " is their own doing?"

    "Why not? If you remove all the vegetation, presently you have no atmosphere, no water."

    "But what was the purpose?"

    "Hygiene. Why should they have their world all crawling with organisms?"

    "But how do we know all this?"

    "The Head has many sources of information. I speak that you may know what can be done: what shall be done here. This Institute-Dio mio, it is for something better than housing and vaccinations and curing the people of cancer. It is for the conquest of death; or for the conquest of organic life, if you prefer. They are the same thing. It is to bring out of that cocoon of organic life which sheltered the babyhood of mind, the New Man, the man who will not die, the artificial man, free from Nature."

    "And you think that some day we shall really find a means of keeping the brain alive indefinitely?"

    "We have begun already. The Head himself . . ."

    "Go on," said Mark. This at last was the real thing. "The Head himself has already survived death, and you shall speak to him this night."

    "Do you mean that Jules has died?"

    "Bah! Jules is nothing. He is not the Head."

    "Then who is?"

    At this moment there was a knock on the door. Someone came in. "Is the young man ready?" asked the voice of Straik. "Oh yes. You are ready, are you not, Mr. Studdock?"

    "Do you mean really to join us, young man?" said Straik. "The Head has sent for you. Do you understand -the Head? You will look upon one who was killed and is still alive. The resurrection of Jesus in the Bible was a symbol: to-night you shall see what it symbolised. This is real Man at last."

    "What the devil are you talking about?" said Mark.

    "My friend is quite right," said Filostrato. "Our Head is the first of the New Men-the first that lives beyond animal life. If Nature had her way his brain would now be mouldering in the grave. But he will speak to you within this hour, and-a word in your ear-you will obey."

    "But who is it?" said Mark.

    "It is Francois Alcasan," said Filostrato.

    "You mean the man who was guillotined?" gasped Mark. Both the heads nodded. Both faces were close to him: in that disastrous light they looked like masks hanging in the air.

    "You are frightened?" said Filostrato. "Ah!-if you were outside, if you were mere canaglia, you would have reason. It is the beginning of all power."

    "It is the beginning of Man Immortal and Man Ubiquitous," said Straik. "It is what all the prophecies really meant."

    "At first, of course," said Filostrato, " the power will be confined to a small number of individual men. Those who are selected for eternal life."

    "And you mean," said Mark, " it will then be extended to all men?"

    "No," said Filostrato. "I mean it will then be reduced to one man. You are not a fool, are you, my young friend? All that talk about the power of Man over Nature is only for the canaglia. You know, as I do, that Man's power over Nature means the power of some men over other men, with Nature as the instrument. There is no such thing as Man- it is a word. It is not Man who will be omnipotent, it is some one man, some immortal man. Alcasan, our Head, is the first sketch of it. The completed product may be someone else. It may be you. It may be me."

    "I don't understand, I don't understand," said Mark.

    "But it is very easy," said Filostrato. "We have found how to make a dead man live. He was a wise man even in his natural life. He live now forever: he get wiser. Later, we make them live better-for at present this second life is probably not very agreeable. Later' we make it pleasant for some-perhaps not so pleasant for others. For we can make the dead live whether they wish it or not. They cannot refuse the little present."

    "And so," said Straik, " the lessons you learned at your mother's knee return. God will have power to give eternal reward and eternal punishment."

    "God?" said Mark. "How does He come into it? I don't believe in God."

    "But, my friend," said Filostrato, " does it follow that because there was no God in the past that there will be no God also in the future?"

    "Don't you see," said Straik, " that we are offering you the unspeakable glory of being present at the creation of God Almighty?"

    "And that little affair of the wife," added Filostrato. "You will do as you are told. One does not argue with the Head."

    Mark had nothing now to help him but the rapidly ebbing exhilaration of the alcohol taken at dinner and some faint gleams of memory from hours during which the world had had a different taste from this exciting horror which now pressed upon him. On the other side was fear. What would they do to him if he refused now ? And, aiding the fear, there was, even then, a not wholly disagreeable thrill at the thought of sharing so stupendous a secret. "Yes," he said. "Yes-of course-I'll come." They led him out. He stumbled, and they linked arms with him. The journey seemed long: passage after passage, doors to unlock, strange smells. Then Filostrato spoke through a speaking-tube and a door was opened to them. A young man in a white coat received them.

    "Strip to your underclothes," said Filostrato. The opposite wall of the room was covered with dials. Numbers of flexible tubes came out of the floor and went into the wall just beneath the dials. The staring dial faces and the bunches of tubes beneath them, faintly pulsating, gave one the impression of looking at some creature with many eyes and many tentacles. When the three newcomers had removed their outer clothes, they washed their hands and faces, and Filostrato plucked white clothes for them out of a glass container with a pair of forceps. He gave them gloves and masks such as surgeons wear. He studied the dials. "Yes, yes," he said. "A little more air. Turn on the chamber air ... slowly ... to Full. Now air in the lock. A little less of the solution. Now."

    CHAPTER NINE

    THE SARACEN'S HEAD

    "IT was the worst dream I've had yet," said Jane next morning. She was in the Blue Room with the Director and Grace Ironwood. "I was in a dark room," said Jane, " with queer smells and a humming noise. Then the light came on, and for a long time I didn't realise what I was looking at. I thought I saw a face floating in front of me. A face, not a head, if you understand. That is, there was a beard and nose and coloured glasses, but there didn't seem to be anything above the eyes. Not at first. But as I got used to the light, I thought the face was a mask tied on to a kind of balloon. But it wasn't, exactly. . . . I'm telling this badly. What it really was, was a head (the rest of a head) which had had the top part of the skull taken off and then . . . then ... as if something inside had boiled over. A great big mass which bulged out from inside what was left of the skull. Wrapped in some kind of composition stuff, but very thin stuff. You could see it twitch. I remember thinking, ' Oh, kill it. Put it out of its pain.' But only for a second, because I thought the thing was dead, really. It was green looking and the mouth was wide open and quite dry. And soon I saw that it wasn't floating. It was fixed up on some kind of bracket, and there were things hanging from it. From the neck, I mean. Yes, it had a neck, but nothing below: no shoulders or body. Only these hanging things. Little rubber tubes and bulbs and metal things."

    "You're all right, Jane, are you?" said Miss Ironwood. "Oh yes," said Jane, "as far as that goes. Only one somehow doesn't want to tell it. Well, quite suddenly, like when an engine is started, there came a puff of air out of its mouth, with a hard, dry, rasping sound. And then there came another, and it settled down into a sort of rhythm- huff, huff, huff--like an imitation of breathing. Then came a most horrible thing: the mouth began to dribble. Then it began working its mouth about and even licking its lips. It was like someone getting a machine into working order. Then three people came into the room, all dressed up in white, with masks on. One was a great fat man, and another was lanky and bony. The third was Mark. I knew his walk."

    "I am sorry," said the Director.

    "And then," said Jane, "all three of them stood in front of the Head. They bowed to it. You couldn't tell if it was looking at them because of its dark glasses. Then it spoke."

    "In English?" said Grace Ironwood. "No, in French."

    "What did it say?"

    "Well, my French wasn't quite good enough to follow it. It spoke in a queer way. With no proper expression."

    "Did you understand any of what was said?"

    "Not much. The fat man seemed to be introducing Mark to it. It said something to him. Then Mark tried to answer. I could follow him all right, his French isn't much better than mine."

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