Meda: a Tale of the Future/Part XI

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AMONG the many things that surprised me during my travels with the Recorder, one of the most remarkable was the absence of any disorder among the people. I noticed no officials that could be said to fill the place of our police or military. All seemed to be happy and contented with their lot, although there were several distinct grades of society. I thought much on this subject, as I could not understand how this great nation, consisting of nearly half the population of the globe, managed to carry on its business at home and defend its interests abroad without police or military. One day, when we were journeying homeward, I asked the Recorder if society had reached such a state of perfection that guardians of the peace at home and abroad could be dispensed with? His reply was that he regretted that such, unfortunately, was not the case, and continuing, he said, "Nor do I see the possibility of perfect harmony existing for long among large communities of finite beings. From the beginning it has been found necessary to control and govern the actions of the multitude by some power greater and better organized than the multitude that is to be governed."

"Wars alas! we cannot hope always to avoid. Ambitious men and ambitious nations will exist to the end of time. But as the world grew older the mode of carrying on war has been altered. It would take a long time to describe all the changes that have taken place, so I will not attempt to enter on the subject at present, but I will tell you something of the method that is now adopted, as it is well that you should understand what is going on around you.

"I have often mentioned to you before that nowadays intelligence is all powerful and omnipotent.

"Our mode of controlling the people of our own nation is by authority given by the state to the ruling elder of each community. He is appointed to this post and entrusted with this duty because it is presumed that he has greater intellectual power than any one else in his district.

"With us men possessed of the greatest intellect have also the greatest physical power, or to put it more plainly, the greater a man's intellectual power the greater is his power to utilize these mysterious forces by which we are surrounded. A ruling elder, therefore, has not only himself to depend on in case of need, but he has also at his disposal an endless supply of force if he is intellectually strong enough to utilize it, and consequently has always at command the means of subduing any tumult. He can, also, if necessary, call to his assistance the intellectual power of other members of this community.

"In the event of serious and widespread disturbances, which happily are now almost unknown, the elders and higher intellects of the various districts unite and by their combined intellectual power crush the malcontents.

"In internal questions and petty home disturbances, this is a very easy thing to accomplish, as invariably all the great intellects are banded together on the side of law and order, and the ruling elders have but rarely to oppose other minds of equal calibre.

"But if two great nations of this era should ever so far forget themselves as to war with one another such a war would be ten thousand times more terrible than any that has ever taken place on this earth.

"Up to the present time since the re-union of all English speaking nations, we have, thank God, been able to settle our disputes by conferences, but as we are told that to the end of time there will be 'wars and rumours of wars,' we must keep the possibility of such a sad eventuality in view, and be prepared for it when it comes.

"My son, I have often tried to picture to myself such a conflict. Only think of the awful results! Only try and realise the consequence of hundreds of thousands of great minds having at command such powerful and mysterious forces meeting in battle with equal numbers of another nationality, endowed with the same intellectual power and having the same mysterious forces at their command!

"Such a state of things is too awful to contemplate. Yet we must be and are prepared.

"While we make no military display, we have among us those who make a study of war. We know that much will depend on strategy, generalship, and discipline; and so we have our generals, our officers, and petty officers all prepared.

"It is our constant and sincere prayer that such terrible events should never take place. Oh yes! My son, we have need to pray that we may never be afflicted with a scourge of this kind. It would mean the destruction of a large number of our greatest intellects, as all our greatest minds must of necessity be the first to meet the enemy. This destruction of intellectual power would be a terrible blow to the contending nations and to the entire world, a blow that it would take ages to recover from.

"In your day you sent your uneducated citizens under a few intellectual commanders to prosecute your wars. Now things have changed and intellect must come to the front to meet and cope with intellect.

"Now, my son, having given this short sketch, as I am in duty bound, we will leave this unpleasant subject with the hope and prayer that the day is far, far, distant when man will be obliged to face this terrible conflict.

"One thing I am sure of is that the English nation will do all it can to avoid war, and should war be forced upon us we will not shirk our responsibility, but do our duty and preserve untarnished that name for bravery, justice, perseverance, and independence, which our fore-fathers won and maintained through all generations even down to the present."

During my travels, I was also shown those wonderful aerial and naval fleets that the Recorder had mentioned. I must say I was much disappointed at the size of the aerial vessels which I saw first, as compared with my recollections of the great armour-clad and other war vessels of the past, and of the enormous merchant vessels, steered and propelled by steam, some of them ten and twelve thousand tons burthen, with their great engines and boilers, great holds for cargo, with enormous cabins, and with every accommodation for cooking and sanitary purposes. These aerial vessels were mere pigmies in comparison with our steamers. Before I describe their construction, I must try and explain to you the means by which they were propelled, as explained to me by the Recorder, and as I am neither an engineer nor a scientist, you must, my dear reader, excuse anything that may not be quite scientific or quite in keeping with mechanics. Put all this want of explicitness and correctness down to my shortcomings in describing these wonderful triumphs of human invention. Or failing this latitude to me, you must attribute your non-comprehension to the imperfect faculties you yourself possess for understanding such things. Those of you who are scientific, and trustful by nature, will have no difficulty in allowing for, and correcting my mistakes; but minds given to doubt will continue to doubt, and will be in doubt to the end of time, because doubt will not allow them to understand. As well as I can, remember, the Recorder said:—

"My son, I promised to describe to you the means by which we propel and control our aerial and naval fleets, and I think I mentioned something to you about lines of force. As I know you are not a mechanic, and as I know your scientific education is not even advanced for the age in which you lived, I have prepared some balls to represent our planet and our atmosphere at various distances from the earth's surface, and these I trust will assist you to comprehend my explanations. There was a philosopher in your day, or slightly prior to it, named Newton, who is reputed by history to have discovered the law of gravity. This man got much more credit for this alleged discovery than he deserved. The fact being that (as the story goes) he saw an apple fall, and called the force that caused it to fall, gravity, but this law was known from the beginning of time. There was not a living man, in any age, who was not conscious that if he stumbled, he would fall to the earth. There was not a monkey or a climbing beast of the old animal life that did not know that if he failed to retain his footing or his hold, he would fall to the earth beneath him. The birds of the air knew that if they ceased to keep their wings in motion they would fall. So, it is evident that this fact which we call the earth's attraction for bodies was known although not named before Newton was thought of. Still, he was undoubtedly a great man, and reduced this force to a measurable quantity for the use of science. Well, this attraction of the earth is one of the great powers that we use. To explain this, I take this globe, and I take this piece of elastic, I attach one end of the elastic to the globe, and another to this little model vessel. You see that I can pull this little vessel away to the extent of the elastic limit of the elastic, but when I suddenly release my hold, the little model flies towards the globe with considerable force.

"Now, you must clearly understand that this illustration is not a correct one, and is simply given to you to fix your ideas as to the principle or law of the earth's attraction. Remember that the model should (if uninfluenced by the elastic), like what you called a balloon, float in the atmosphere, and that in falling towards the globe the power of the elastic should increase instead of becoming exhausted.

"Well, here I have four globes of different sizes: one is supposed to represent the earth at its surface, that is at the tops of its highest mountains, which are only, when compared with the globe itself, but slight roughnesses like those on an orange. You will notice that this globe is wound round with red silk threads from north to south diagonally. These represent the north and south lines of force. Then you will see another set of blue silk threads that represent the east and west lines of force, also slightly diagonal. The north and south lines of force are produced, we believe, by what you call magnetism, and the east and west lines of force by some power that is generated by the earth's rotation,—some say it is electricity. Now, the second globe is taken to represent two thousand feet above the earth's surface, and you will notice that the lines of force instead of being nearly at right angles to one another, are at an angle slightly more acute. Then if we take the third and fourth balls, you will see that the greater distance we get from the earth's surface the more acute these lines of force get to one another.

"We have three great powers at our disposal for aerial navigation; first, we have the earth's attraction, which you will see, if it could be destroyed or modified, would allow us to ascend; then, we have what we call the red and blue lines of force. If we destroy or partially destroy the earth's attraction, we will ascend as I told you from the earth, and in doing so the earth will travel westward from us at a greater or less speed in proportion to the distance we are from its surface, and if we again bring the earth's attraction into play, we will descend on the earth and travel with it. But this alone would be a very useless advantage, as we could only make easting, and it is here that the north and south, east and west lines of force come into play. The earth's attraction is destroyed or modified at will by a great instrument carried in the bottom of each vessel, and the lines of forces are utilized at will by other instruments, which act as steering and pulling engines. You see that by allowing the vessel to ascend and descend, bringing the red or blue lines of forces into play, any position of the earth's surface can be reached, the direction north and south being controlled by the lines of force at different altitudes."

I here ventured to ask how it was possible for them to steer their vessels without any land marks.

He replied;—"While we have had no land marks we have the heavenly bodies to guide us in the same way as your ships used to be steered by the observations of the sun's position at mid-day, and the stars by night. Besides this we have a very beautiful apparatus that was indeed foreshadowed in your day by the gyroscopic compass. This apparatus consists of a geographical globe, that after the principle of a gyroscope is set in motion, and is so arranged that it keeps in motion at a uniform speed for three months; this globe is provided with a pointer that points to a position on its surface corresponding to the position that the vessel is in, in relation to the earth, so that at all times we can tell within a mile or two the exact position in which we are. The steersman has simply to look at his globe, and by working handles, one controlling the earth's attraction, and the other two controlling the action of the lines of force see that his pointer is following the course laid down on the globe before him.

"There are many other refinements that I will not trouble you with as you are not a scientific man, such as resistance coils that prevent the vessels when descending from coming suddenly into contact with the earth's surface, and attraction coils that prevent the vessels ascending above a certain altitude. These are practically self-acting governors which come into action in the event of any accident to the other instruments or carelessness on the part of the steersman.

"The naval fleets are not the same as these; they depend, except for anchoring, entirely on the power of the red and blue lines of force, and as they have the great buoyancy of the water to assist them in carrying greater weights, they are provided with propelling engines that utilize these forces mechanically; the speeds they attain you would consider very great,—they have reached one hundred miles an hour,—but compared with the speed of the aerial vessels their speed is as nothing. The naval fleets are steered by a modification of the same compass as is used by the aerial fleet, and they have the advantage of being able to make direct southing, northing, easting, or westing, as by the use of a helm they can be steered in any direction."

After this lecture on the nature of the power, and the way in which it was utilized, I was taken through an aerial vessel. She was in shape a long flat oval; I should say 100 feet long by 30 wide, and about 10 feet deep, and was entered by a door in her tortoise-shaped back. The vessel appeared to me to be constructed of a material like aluminium, and its shell was apparently very thin. The cabins, for the size of the vessel, were very roomy, being lighted, as there were no windows or ports, by globes of luminous material. These were fixed in such a way that one-half projected through the vessel's skin, while the other projected into the cabin. The outer half was thus being charged with light, while the inner half was giving off light to the interior. The deck was protected by a railing constructed of thin plates, stiffened at the edge by a metallic beading. The cabin furniture consisted of light seats and couches, securely fixed to the floor by means of screws.

In the centre of the vessel I saw all the interesting apparatus that had been described to me by the Recorder. He took me up to these instruments and explained all about the different functions of the different parts, but as I had not a mind capable of understanding such highly scientific subjects, I begged him to desist, saying that while I was able to grasp the general description of the principles and laws that were utilized by these wonderful contrivances, it would only make me confused, if he tried to drum the details into me.

He said:—"My son, my enthusiasm for such things leads me to forget that you are as yet young in learning. I would have you study these subjects, as in our day mechanical science has been placed above all others. It has, as it were, become chemically combined with all sciences; no science can move without it. In your day, the mechanical engineer had to make money by his profession, and therefore a beautiful science was defiled by a desire for gain. Now, we study mechanics, because we love the science itself, and not its financial results."

Having inspected the aerial ship, in which I was greatly interested, the Recorder now said he would next take me to the docks in order to allow me to inspect the naval vessels. I was all expectation to know what the docks of the present day were like. "Here at least," I said to myself, "there will be some resemblance to what I had known in my previous life." During our journey to the docks, I taxed my imagination, and tried to compare things as I had known them with the things I now expected to see. I said to myself:—"These docks won't be clean—I never saw a dock that was clean. There is sure to be a strong smell of pitch and tar—there always is in docks. There will be ropes, planks and chains to tumble over—such things are always about docks. There will be lots of bales of goods under sheds, and sailors and lumpers hanging about. They may have reformed the land and the landsmen, but Jack would retain many of his characteristics; salt water made these men what they were in my day, and salt water would retain its hold on them to the last." I got to be quite confident in this belief. I actually grew so certain of it that I chuckled to myself and rubbed my hands together in delight, thinking that now I would have a chance of having a "rise" out of the Recorder. Now I would be able to say to him:—"My good friend, in naval matters at least you are to a very large extent indebted to the intelligence of the despised ancients." I noticed that the Recorder also looked very happy, and I felt that this must be due to his knowledge of what was passing through my mind. I was confident that he, being a very benevolent man, was happy, because I was at last to see something that nearly resembled what I had known, as ships, docks, sailors and lumpers, and all the other things in connection with docks that existed in my previous life. But alas! my visions and my dreams were to be dashed aside. The Recorder's pleasant, happy face was, I found, not due to the cause I supposed. He was simply reading my thoughts, and smiling at their folly.

After we had been travelling for about half an hour, he said to me, pointing to the southward:—"There are the docks I am taking you to see. There are some of the vessels of our naval fleet. Don't you see them?"

I answered: "I see neither ships nor docks. Your vision, you must remember, is much stronger than mine. I certainly see a large sheet of water, like a big ornamental sea full of islands, but where are the docks, the ships, the tar, the pitch, the sheds, the goods, the sailors, the lumpers, the planks, the dirty water, yes, and the nasty smells?"

"My son," he replied, "These things that you have named are all gone—they are all things of the past. You ancients could not do anything without smoke and dirt, pitch and tar. You made your docks very cesspools for all the dirt and filth of your cities. You caged your sailors in dirty dens on board your vessels. So cramped and ill-ventilated were the quarters you caused them to occupy, that you demoralized them in mind and in body. They were slovenly in their clothing, depraved in their minds, immoral and intemperate in their habits when ashore, yet withal, a good natured, innocent set of men when at sea, and free from the temptations landsmen laid as snares for them. Yes," he said, "it is well that these are things of the past." We now drew nearer to the sheet of water, and I saw that what I thought were islands were floating bodies like immense mastless ships. Having first seen the aerial vessels, which were very small, I was greatly surprised now to see vessels of such great magnitude. They did not stand high out of the water, but the length was very great, and the beam was about one-third of the length. There were in all six of these island-like vessels. They seemed to keep quite stationary and yet I could see no chains, cables or anchors holding them. The Recorder seeing my wonder explained that they were held in position by what are known as earth attractors placed in the vessels' bottoms. "In very small ships," he said, "there is one, but in vessels of the size we now see there are five such instruments. A very powerful attractor is placed right in the centre, and holds the vessel to the earth, by what I might by way of illustration describe as innumerable invisible cords or lines of attraction. When held by the central attractor the vessel may be swung round, but when the other four (two of which are placed near the bow and two near the stern) are brought into action, the vessel remains perfectly stationary. So powerful are those invisible cables, that no hurricane can shift her when once she is thus moored. The seas may wash over her decks, but can do her no harm, as in such weather all openings are securely covered in. How absurd it appears to us now to read of your chains and your cables, your anchors and other contrivances that were of no use until you got into shallow water that must of necessity be near the rocks, the great source of the danger you wished to avoid. In fact, your would-be wise naval architects designed vessels that had to seek shallow and therefore dangerous waters to enable them to use the miserable contrivances to which they had to trust for a chance of safety; whereas, we come to anchor anywhere in any depth of water in an instant. But we must not wait here longer. Let us go on board." He led me down to a landing stage where lay a number of little boats, such as I previously described as having seen spinning about the lakes. He got into one of these directing me to follow. I did so, sitting down in the bow, while he was seated in the stern. He took up two small knobs at the ends of lines like tiller lines, one in each hand, and the little craft immediately seemed literally to bound forward. I had at first to hold on to the seat to prevent my body jumping right back into the Recorder's face, but I soon got accustomed to the rapid motion, and was able to retain my seat, and see everything around me. Looking towards the shore, I saw nothing resembling my dear old dirty docks. No, there was nothing but trees and flowers, with here and there picturesque little landing stages and small villas. The Recorder guided our little craft round the various vessels to allow me to get an idea of their external appearance. I should say each vessel was nine hundred feet in length. They had a very high freeboard, not less than ten feet: the railing, which took the place of bulwarks, was quite open and light in construction, standing about three feet high.

The Recorder told me in passing that these great vessels were built wholly of aluminium bronze, which, he stated, resisted the effects of the atmosphere and was very strong. In going round the harbour we met many parties that the Recorder told me were composed of seamen. Such oddities. They were the same type of being as my guides, only browned by the sun and exposure, and instead of being dressed in white, their little figures were clad in garments of the same cut but blue. While I was now getting familiar with these strange people, I felt shocked to hear such creatures as these called seamen, and I could not help thinking that civilization had reduced my ideal seaman to a creature that one could not but think a miserable substitute at best. We ran alongside one of the vessels, and ascending a little gangway were met at the top by the commander. Here, again, was a great change for me. I had pictured to myself a man in blue, gold, and epaulettes, as commander of this great vessel; but alas! this sea king now before me was dressed just like the Recorder, had the same class of features, and was of about the same stature. He turned out to be a relative of the Recorder, and expressed great joy at meeting him so unexpectedly. While greeting him his eyes were never off me, he was evidently at a loss to know who and what I was. Seeing this the Recorder led him aside, no doubt to explain my nationality and history. He came back and politely showed me over his great vessel from stem to stern, taking the greatest pains to explain all its wonders. I shall not attempt to give you a description of the mechanism I saw and had explained to me on board this vessel. It is enough to say that it bore a strong resemblance to that which I had seen in the aerial vessel, only it was of a much greater size. The Recorder had previously told me that in the naval fleets the power of the lines of force was not utilised direct, but through mechanism which enabled the commander to take his vessel in any direction he desired.

I was shewn force converting and propelling machinery, attractors, propellers, controllers and any number of other contrivances, no doubt necessary and useful, but to me incomprehensible. At each instrument or machine was seated an attendant, who received his instructions through a dial which stood before him. The navigating instrument seemed to be very perfect, while not very complex. It was exactly the same as that in the aerial vessel, only the globe was very much larger. The pointer was pointing to the part of England at which the docks were situated. How very simple this beautiful instrument made the science of navigation. I asked the commander if it could always be relied on, he told me that it was very accurate, but when at sea, he said that all commanders made it a rule to check and adjust it by the sun and stars.

In going through the vessel the commander explained that she was almost entirely used for passenger service. There were numerous little state rooms, and the same leading feature that I had seen in connection with everything in this strange country was here. This feature was that everything in some measure is devoted to instruction.

Here, on board this ship I found three great rooms or cabins, fitted up as lecture halls. The first we entered was the "Hall of Practical Navigation;" the second was the "Hall of Forces of Marine Propulsion;" this, I was given to understand, included all kinds of apparatus for propelling, retarding or anchoring vessels; the third was the "Hall for the Investigation of Marine Animal, Insect and Vegetable life."

How different was all this from my time! The inscriptions over the door would probably then have been:—"The Great Food Devouring Cabin;" "The Intoxicating Drinks Cabin;" and "The Smoking and Gambling Cabin." The Recorder remarked that some day we should take a long voyage in one of these vessels, which would be both interesting and instructive. I was shewn a large circular lens in the floor of the "Marine Life Investigation Hall." This was illuminated from above, and the light was so powerful that when you looked down through eyeholes you could examine the waters to a great depth. There was also an arrangement of reflectors that cast pictures of what was going on below, on a large screen, thus allowing all in the hall to see at one time what was passing underneath the vessel. The staff of every vessel included lecturers on each of the three subjects, all of whom were selected from the most educated of the highest order. Astronomy, I was told, could be much better taught at the observatories, but in the "Hall of Practical Navigation," this science was largely made use of.

By the time we got on deck, we found that hundreds of passengers had arrived, and we learned that the packet would sail or rather be drawn away in about an hour. The Recorder soon said good-bye to his relative, and we got into our little boat and made for the shore. I told him that since I had seen this triumph of naval architecture and engineering skill, I felt a great desire to go a voyage.

He replied: "Good, my son, as I told you before, we will enjoy this pleasure together some day soon. If I can but spare the time we will visit America and the other distant parts of our country. You will find all in about the same state of advancement there, as here. Intercommunication has done wonders in levelling national prejudices and local peculiarities."