Meda: a Tale of the Future/Part XII
HAVING now visited all the places the Recorder had promised to show me, and having seen hundreds of other wonders that it would take volumes to describe, we got back again to our starting place. I had by this time advanced so far in modern civilization that I could do without food, and I could move about with the Recorder without his assistance. I had, in fact, learned to control my movements and my leg weights by the power of will, and this progress greatly pleased my friend and my monitor.
When we got back to his house we were met by his wife and daughter, and I somehow thought that the daughter received me with special favour. When seeing all these mechanical and naval wonders I could not help thinking where all this constructive work had been executed. Throughout all our travels, I had not seen a single factory or shipyard anywhere. I asked the Recorder where these great mechanical wonders and these great fleets were made. He said:—"My son, in your day you established your factories where fuel was cheapest and most plentiful. We carry out exactly the same plan. As I told you, we do work by the concentrated heat of the sun. So we establish all factories that use heat where the sun's heat is strongest, that is in what your geographers called the tropics. It is there all this work is carried out, as you shall see when we go on our travels."
After a short stay with his family, extending in all to but a few hours, the Recorder said he could not remain longer, as he must get back to his office, having been now many days absent. I was now for the first time left alone with the ladies. They were most kind and attentive to me. I was taken out for long walks, or rather flights; and we visited a number of their lady friends. In many of these visits, I was made aware of the fact that even the ladies of the most refined modern type of this generation were brimful of curiosity, as many that we visited, when there was no man present, came and gazed at me in a very rude way, in fact on two occasions they actually pinched me, I suppose to see if I was man or mummy. After this my modesty caused me to decline visiting except the Recorder was with us; but through all these pleasant little outings the Recorder's daughter never said or did anything rude, and I noticed when curiously-minded ladies took these liberties with me, she looked very much displeased with them for their want of courtesy.
In several of our flights I took her by the hand: what a nice hand it was; and then there was that continued flow of force passing through our fingers. At one time, it appeared to flow from my fingers into hers, and then, it would flow back again. I lost all recollection of her deformity; I thought no longer of her large head and chest; and I now became thoroughly convinced that there was only one true model for Venus, and that model was the Recorder's daughter. She conversed with me on all subjects with the greatest freedom; but when I asked her to explain the history of the ruined cities, she placed her fingers on her lips, and shook her lovely head, saying:—
"No, no, that is father's duty, he will explain all in good time."
This friendly intercourse lasted I am sure for several weeks; but to be candid, I was so happy in this lady's company that I lost all count of time, so I will not be answerable for its duration; it may have been months. I was treated like the most loveable of lovely ladies' pets; the interest that they took in me was something past conception. I must say, for my part, that I was becoming thoroughly spoiled. One day, I asked the ladies:—"Was anyone ever punished in this refined age, and what punishment was resorted to?"
The elderly lady told me that trivial offences were punished by admonitions from the elders of the people, but no matter how great the offence, no one's life was taken. "But for all that," said she, "there is one offence that cannot be named by any woman that is subject to a dreadful punishment."
I asked her to let me know what this punishment was, and with a serious face she said:—
"Men or women that are guilty of this terrible crime are allowed to float away alone into endless space; what becomes of them there we know not. Some say they journey with the dead, and remain in life until the resurrection, but as to what really becomes of them we are ignorant, and must remain so until the appointed day."
I enquired how this terrible execution was carried out. "Oh," she said, "the offender is brought before the Court of Judges, and pleads his own cause. If he is found guilty the men of the district are called together, and on the day fixed for the despatch he is brought before the multitude, his leg weights are removed and replaced by a gravity destroyer, fixed in a belt around his waist, and at a given word he floats upwards, the earth moves away past him and he is seen no more. Terrible! terrible!" she said, and wept.
The description that I had just heard of this most terrible punishment, took a great hold of my mind. I wished to ask what the crime was that was so cruelly dealt with; but I dared not enquire, all looked so grave at the very mention of the punishment. It was truly an intellectual refinement of cruelty. Only think of a living being floating away into an interminable space, and that being one who could live without food,—a being that had a mind, that could think, and hope, and fear. Where would his misery end? When would this poor creature's torment cease? Would birds of prey follow him, flying round his head, gloating over him and pecking at his eyes? But it was useless for me to try to think it all out, to realise the terrors he must endure, and the end he must come to. As the Recorder's wife said:—"Who can tell what becomes of them? This cannot be known, until the day arrives that will clear up all mystery, and put an end to all doubt, and, let us hope, sorrow." I soon got over my feeling of commiseration for these poor criminals, and drowned my thoughts with the delightful intellectual surroundings in which fortune had placed me, growing as I was daily more and more accustomed to my new life in this strange country.
The Recorder was very much occupied for many days with state business, so we did not see much of him. At last, when he had got through his work that had fallen far behind, he came to me one evening and said:—
"My son, I must try and give you the continuation of the history of the English race, down to the present, as I think you are now in a state of health, both in mind and body, that will enable you to understand what I have to reveal, and bear up against the relation of the harrowing details of the destruction of the cities and their inhabitants, with whom you must naturally sympathise. But I will be brief. I have told you how a universal language was founded and established in all countries. I have told you of the great sect that was formed, and of the principles this sect adhered to and propagated. I have told you of the good this sect did in the country districts, and how the educated classes in the cities joined them. I have told you how a certain set of people in the cities opposed them for selfish motives, and I have told you how they influenced the uneducated people, and succeeded in leading them astray. The consequence was that the educated citizens, rather than give up the principles that they had adopted, left the cities and went to reside in the country, thus allowing those who remained full scope to carry out their foolish ways. The cities throughout the empire again became more and more depraved; their inhabitants seemed to again sink to the lowest depths of degradation; they went to the greatest excesses in eating and drinking; and their physical strength became lower and lower by this abuse. Anarchy again rose, and wise men saw that there were terrible times again in store for these people. The great sect of reformers remained steadfast to their principles, inducing as many as they could from the cities to join them in the country; and by the solidity, compactness, and power of their institutions, they managed to keep those that still adhered to the old and foolish way of living in check. The American people were in exactly the same position as the English. The inhabitants of the cities all over the world became degraded, while those who joined the great sect and lived in the country became more and more elevated. The consumption of food was reduced to a minimum by believers in the sect's doctrine. Lung power proportionately increased in them, and it was found that their intelligence increased also. It was a remarkable fact that these reformers seemed to gain ground equally all over the world; they grew in power and influence by living with nature; but all their power and all their influence was unable to reform the cities. Love of money, of gambling, and of excess, went on growing apace, until the cities again became regular dens of vice and corruption.
"Things had got to such a pitch in the year 4200 that there were two distinct factions in every country—the free eaters and those that advocated extreme moderation. The latter being the stronger and more intelligent held well together, and being a world wide organisation had the great advantage on their side of united action.
"About this time great consternation was caused by an announcement made by a philosopher named Baria, who said that he had discovered a new comet which he predicted would either destroy or entirely alter the earth. Most of the learned men, after examining the comet, gave credence to his statement, and all the astronomers confirmed the comet's existence. It came gradually nearer and nearer to our earth, but the city people and non-believers in the great sect's doctrines, only laughed. They said hundreds of comets had come before, and had gone as they had come, without doing any harm. But Baria proved that in pre-historic days a great comet must have visited our planet and altered its physical and climatic conditions, and he said further that this comet would do the same, or it might even destroy the world.
"The great sect to a man, believed in Baria's statements. They visited the cities, and preached reformation to the people while it was yet time, but to no good. They were only laughed at, and scoffed, and in many cases the mobs stoned them, saying: 'This is another of your mad notions; you want to get possession of our cities as you have of our country for your own selfish ends.'
"Baria's prophecies were, alas! but too true. The comet came nearer and nearer to the earth, and with it the awful day of tribulation approached. It came so near that its attraction seemed gradually to slow down the earth's rotation. This was first noticed when it was reported that all the chronometers were going fast. It was found that while they registered twenty-four hours, the sun did not reach the meridian for twenty-five hours. This difference gradually increased, until at the end of a month, it took thirty hours by the chronometer for the earth to make its diurnal revolution, and at last the period was increased to forty-eight hours. Baria and many other philosophers stated that the earth's velocity was being retarded by the attraction of the comet; there was evidently a terrible struggle for the mastery going on between it and the earth. It was a case of the mighty wrestling with the mighty; two giants as it were on the grip for life or death.
"The consternation was terrible. The atmosphere of the earth began to change, and a great plague fell upon the people of the cities, they could not breathe freely. They gradually died by thousands, and to make matters worse, earthquakes took place all over the world, and the surface of the earth cracked. Thousands of cities were levelled to the ground in one day—the people in them who had not died of what they called the plague were crushed beneath the ruins. A great flow of icebergs came floating down the North Atlantic; thousands of ships and steamers were lost, captains found that they were out of their reckonings by hundreds of miles, and all thought that the last day had come. The members of the great sect spent their days and nights in prayer in the open country. Strange to say, they did not feel many bad effects from the changes that were taking place. They felt in most cases stronger and better than ever they did. They saw the citizens and non-believers succumb in thousands; they tried to help them, but it was useless, all died. The very animals gave way, horses, cattle, sheep, birds, and vermin seemed to sicken and die. The sights by which the survivors were surrounded were terrible to look on, there was nothing but ruins, death and corruption. The cities were huge charnel pits. Dead cattle lay in every direction over the land, and but few animals survived the general destruction. The courses of rivers were in many parts of the world changed; the sea receded in some places, and encroached on the land in others. At last, the comet began to recede; the fight was over; the earth gradually regained its normal speed, and in about three months it was found to have made up its lost diurnal velocity, and began to accomplish its revolution in twenty-four hours by the chronometers. But what extraordinary changes had taken place. There was not a single city standing. It was found that the British Channel now occupied the latitude of the south of France; Spain was where north Africa used to be; the Arctic Ocean was free from ice; and there was now a navigable water passage around the north of Canada. Fresh reports were coming in daily from survivors by the cables that had escaped injury. Australia was now hundreds of miles further south, and its southern portion was visited by snow storms. Astronomers were busy taking observations all over the world; and it was proved beyond a doubt that owing to the attraction of the comet the earth's axis had permanently shifted. The ice-clad northern seas and lands were free from ice, it had drifted down the Atlantic, and melting, was dissipated. A new frozen region was forming at the earth's new axis, but the strangest thing of all was the change of atmosphere. It was found that its component parts were quite different, being now composed of new life-sustaining gases on which man could live, but it was very destructive to iron and steel. This at once explained the cause of the plague amongst the free eaters and drinkers. Their lungs not having been accustomed, as were those of the great sect, to gather support from the air, could not inhale or utilize these stronger life-sustaining gases; while they imparted life and vigour to our sect, to the rest of the world's inhabitants they acted as a slow poison. Then in the confusion of that terrible period of suspense, the non-believers also suffered terribly for the want of proper food; whereas in the case of the believers the simplest kind of food sufficed to keep them in life, and very little of it. This amount of food was gradually reduced as time went on, until, as you see, my son, we can now live on our life-giving atmosphere alone, and enjoy strength and happiness without any food and but little water. Can you now understand the present state of things? Can you now understand why all cities are ruined, and deserted; why we abhor and avoid them? Can you now understand why iron and steel have become things of the past?
"You may not yet see all this as we see it, my son, but you will soon be able to do so. Iron and steel are of no use now; the corrosive power of our atmosphere is so great, that the heaviest and strongest structure if made of these metals would soon be eaten away. The great war ships of the ancients and their great merchant fleets soon became useless by corrosion. This was well, because we now have no use for them. We do not require them to carry food, having no need of it. We do not want them for carrying fuel, having no use for it. All we now require is clothing, and this is of the simplest kind. As previously explained to you, all our sea and aerial fleets are constructed of the metal you know as aluminium, which is light and strong; and it is to be had in every country where you understand its manufacture.
"Have you ever reflected or thought since you have been with us what a horrible people you used to be? Think of the terrible things you did. Think of a people that would be base enough to defile their mouths with the flesh of the lower animals, flesh that must turn to corruption. The bare idea of this barbarous custom causes me to shudder." I here could not help asking how it was that the people of the present day retained their teeth when they could have no possible use for them. I had often remarked to myself what lovely white teeth they had. The Recorder remarked:—
"This is a pertinent question, my son, and shows me that you are possessed of considerable reasoning power. The fact is that we have no teeth of our own; they are all artificial, look here," he said, and putting his hand to his mouth he took out a complete set of teeth, and showed them to me, saying, after he replaced them: "A number of generations having lived without food, nature saw that we had no use for teeth, and caused them gradually to disappear. The consequence was that our mouths closed up very much, and we could not speak fluently, so we were obliged to use false teeth. The ladies, strange to say, were the leaders in this fashion, and we now feel obliged to them, as the faculty of speech is of great value to us." I here mentioned that while they were far advanced in many things, I had seen nothing that resembled the phonograph or speech registering: and re-uttering machine.
"No," he said, "we do not wish to encourage such inventions as these, they are only fit for the uneducated who can neither read nor speak themselves. We want our people to be fluent writers, brilliant musicians, and fluent speakers. We have a duty to perform, and that is to keep them occupied and educated. If we were to do away with the art of writing and encouraged such inventions as these, we have proved by experience that the people who depend on them get too lazy to learn. Again, people that are lazy get selfish, and a selfish-minded man or woman is an abomination. Selfishness is a sin we use all our power and will to stamp out from our midst, as a sin not worthy of our manhood, a sin that would degrade us, were it allowed, below the level of humanity, whose greatest function is, and must ever be, to live for the good of others and not for self's selfish ends, at least, if we wish to be happy."