Melbourne and Mars/Chapter 10
"MOTHER knows the world hotter than I do; knows that wherever I go everything I can want and need will be placed at my disposal, and yet she wants me to take several things with me; to pack a box and carry changes of clothing and some personal belongings, which she says I may not always be able to get. I thought of only taking my haversack in which to carry my note-books, &c, but I must obey my mother. After all, a box needs not be much of an encumbrance. If I have to walk sometimes and at others to fly where luggage is not carried, I can get the box sent on to meet me at any suitable point.
Father is not going with me, but will come and spend a while with me in the capital. Mother and my sister Emma, who is as tall as mother, and well educated and accomplished as a musician and artist, will probably accompany him.
For me there are several modes of travel from which I can choose. From the nearest depôt I can get an air boat and fly with it as long as I require it, leaving it at the nearest depôt when done with. If I take it the whole fifteen thousand miles it will be just as much a chattel of the government and just as much at home as now. Its use for the time I have had it will be debited to me, that is all. I am under no obligation to return it. If articles get congested in one place they are redistributed; but this rarely happens. My freedom causes the depôt to debit the government, for they have to give an account to the Central.
I do not take an air boat, for the weather is cold and the mode of travel lonely. Besides, in flying eternal vigilance has to be manifested and occasional descents made to resupply electricity. We carry a chemical generator for an emergency, such as being caught in mid air with no means of controlling descent, and so having to fall. In some places supply wires are thirty miles apart. It is possible to pass one and be unable to reach another; it is therefore necessary to know how far you can go and how far you have gone.
Another mode is by the swift air boats that carry despatches and special messengers. These go through the upper air, above the level of ordinary traffic, at an average speed of one hundred miles an hour; on emergency they go at twice the speed. Even that is slow compared with the rate of a dozen centuries ago, at which period everything used to go in a greater hurry. It was discovered, however, that the rapidity of travel made drivers nervous, and materially impaired their health and shortened their lives. A parliament was convened and the question of rates of travel fully discussed. The result is we travel slower and live longer. It is a matter of history that one of the government air boats, about twelve hundred years ago, went round the planet in four days, That is, it travelled over three hundred miles an hour.
I decided not to go by the government boat. My medal would pass me, but my journey to the metropolis was not of State importance, and to have used the boat would have been to tax my prerogative to the utmost. Fifteen thousand miles is a long journey in any case.
Two more ways lay open; by rail, skirting the south of the Central Ocean, and by rail and sea, taking a warmer and more northerly route. The latter I selected.
Our lines all run underground, so that travellers by rail see nothing of the country, and have no night nor day. The propelling force is the usual one. The cars are well lit and supplied with every convenience. In them you can eat, drink, sleep, read, bathe, work, write; in short, make yourself at home. The maximum rate of travel is one hundred miles an hour, and the cars are suspended between the wheels, so that motion is scarcely felt. The sound also is deadened so much that ordinary conversation is heard as if in a drawingroom. In winter railway travelling is the most comfortable, for one thing the warmest.
As we have no waste spaces, and depôts for the reception and distribution of produce have not to be far apart, we have need for a vast railway system. Heavy goods of all kinds are carried underground. Articles are rarely consumed in any quantity where they are produced. This causes a great amount of traffic. Trains are run very frequently. We have branch lines and perfect communication with every district. They do not run from city to city, because we have no cities in the ordinary sense of the term. In no part have we buildings massed together, no streets, and no dense masses of population. Where manufactures are carried on houses are nearer together; in agricultural areas they are further apart, but they never touch one another. The number of railway stations is regulated by the density of the population of the district, and there is always a station near a depôt for the reception and distribution of commodities.
During my first day's travel nothing occurred that requires mention; but early on the second day a traveller joined me whom I cannot forget in a hurry. He was an old man, very old, one who would appear aged amongst people who are in the habit of growing old. Our people almost always die of old age, and yet, all the old men I have seen appear young when compared with this man.
His hair was a soft white fleece of silvery whiteness and beautiful to look upon, and his full beard reaching down to his waist of the same whiteness gave him a peculiarly venerable appearance. I have never seen a face like his. The skin had in it literally thousands of finely traced wrinkles and was semi-transparent. It appeared as if a faint light glowed beneath it; the features were very fine and harmonius; indeed, he had the peculiar beauty which belongs to the old age of a remarkably good life. Old as he was, he presented no sign of senility; he was active in his movements, and every sense and faculty appeared to be on the alert.
When I saw that the old man intended to get into the train, I went to his assistance and carried a handbag for him. We went into one of the cosy sitting-rooms and got into conversation. He saw that I wore the badge of Freedom, which he also carried, and asked me how I had obtained that honor at such an early period of my youth. His views regarding the use of the badge were entirely in harmony with my own. He had gained the honor by mathematical and astronomical research.
We exchanged cards, and finding that we were bound to the same place, to the intellectual centre of the metropolis, we decided to travel together. I say the centre of the metropolis because the metropolitan area is a thousand miles long and five hundred in width, and contains one fifth of the population of the planet. But even here, each house has about a rood of land, and fruits and vegetables are grown in great abundance; the whole area is more like a park than a city, so says my new friend.
As we conversed on general topics, I perceived that my new friend regarded me with closer and closer attention, and after a while he appeared to recall something to mind, 'Charles Frankston,' says he 'Charles Frankston' again, as if speaking to himself.
'Did you not have a fall from your father's air boat when you were a little boy?'
'I did, and can remember the sensation to this day.'
'And you were unconscious for some time, several days?'
'Yes; about ten days,'
'You were attended by Doctor Hildreth?'
'I was; she is still the medical officer of our district.'
'Do you remember anything of that time, any peculiar experiences strange thoughts or dreams?'
'No; but I overheard a conversation in which it was said that I was an Earthborn and still living on that planet.'
'Will you allow me to find out if that is correct?'
'Yes, if you can do so. I am entirely unconscious of anything of the kind, though my mother says that I have put questions that indicate some experiences or thoughts that I cannot have had during my present existence.'
'Can you trust me to deprive you of your consciousness for a few moments? I will do you no harm.'
'Certainly I can. I feel that I may trust you with anything, even my present or eternal welfare.'
'Fix your eyes; look steadily into mine.'
I obeyed. In a few moments his eyes appeared to merge into one large brilliant one, and his white head and beard became a mighty mass blocking up half my sky,
Suddenly I lost sight of both eye and head, and attained a new and strange consciousness. I found myself a big, heavy, stiff, slow-moving man moving almost painfully along a street. All the sights around me appeared familiar to one half of me, and entirely unfamiliar to the other half. I was awake, but how strangely awake. What a roar of harsh sounds, grinding wheels, clanging bells, discordant and angry voices, and what faces—stern, hard, selfish, smileless, sickly, pale, wrinkled, careworn, ugly as with sinful passion, and yet these are human faces and being human they are capable of happiness, though not one appears happy. And the buildings how tall and dark, how massed together. I suppose this is what we used to have on our world in the ancient days, and that it is called a city. Clock tower, Town Hall, Collins Street, five o'clock; this information comes to the slow and heavy half of me. And yet this slow half is part of me, and its automatic movements carry me past tram and 'bus and through moving wheels in and out without danger. Down Swanston-street, half of me knowing half of me dreaming, through noise, smoke, dust, crushing and crowding to a station and a train, and cries of 'hurry up! hurry up!' A slamming and a banging, a hoarse shriek, a jerk, and we are moving to the accompaniment of grinding and roaring. Surely here the main study of everyone is how to make life miserable for everybody else.
More clang and bang, more roar and shriek, more hurry and rush and crush, more striving to be first through narrow gates and we are in a suburb. Here the buildings are farther apart, and there is a patch of garden ground here and there, but these are mostly neglected. Home? Yes, and that elderly lady my wife? Why she is older than my mother's mother. That bearded pard my son? He is surely older than my father. 'Come along, dad; you look a bit tired. Had a lot of stair-climbing to-day I suppose.'
'Yes, my son. It is as I thought; you are living a double life.'
I looked around dazed. My old friend is sitting opposite, and a gentle oscillation now and then reminds me that I am in a railway train travelling one hundred miles an hour towards the Metropolis of Mars. Four broad gauge lines: two central ones for express traffic and outside lines for stopping trains.
'I hope you will excuse me. I do not understand. Must have been asleep, sorry'—
'No! no, boy. I was just telling you; you are living a double life.'
'Oh! I remember; you sent me into something like sleep, and I have had a strange dream.'
'That was no dream; it was an episode. Just half-an-hour of the other life you are living. I was with you all the time, and I saw and heard all that you saw and heard. On earth you are about sixty-three years of age. These years are about half the length of ours, you know. You are in business as a commission agent in Melbourne, the capital of Australia; you have a wife to whom you have been married thirty-eight years, and your eldest son, whom you saw, is about twice your age. He is nearly thirty-seven, and a family man.'
'But I know nothing of this; how is it possible?'
'That I cannot explain. The phenomenon is rare, but it is mine as well as yours. I am an earth born, and forty years ago, earth years, I was teaching a school in that very city of Melbourne, then an infant city. I transferred about that time, but have not lost my interest in earth life, and I keep a constant lookout for such as you. That is my reason for ascertaining your identity. Sooner or later I should have sought you had not accident thrown us together.'
'You say 'transferred' about forty years ago?'
'Yes, that is what I call it. My soul, or the Ego, had no further use for its earthly tenement, and so transferred itself or was transferred by a Higher Power to its present one.'
Pardon my inquisitiveness. I feel that I am stepping on ground that must be sacred to you. Can you tell me anything about what we call death, seeing that you have evidently undergone it?'
'I can tell you but little. For some years I suffered from a painful cancer, and grew weaker and worse, until I had to give up my occupation. I longed then for death, as it is termed, although I knew that I was living elsewhere. One hot day I sat weakly gasping and longing for a cool breath when I felt a strange fulness at the heart, a spasm of pain, and then a sweet sleep stole over me, a feeling of calm and perfect rest. I woke here feeling fuller of life than ever, and perfectly happy. You now know all that I do. Birth and Death appear to me very much alike in some respects. One brings us from we know not whence into life and consciousness, and the other lets us lapse into unconsciousness, and we go we know not whither. Possibly life is a day and death a night, and the real life the life of an immortal is a succession of such changes taking place at longer or shorter intervals.'
'And death as we usually know it; not the transference that you have undergone and that I may undergo—what think you of that?'
'I regard it as a natural change, and although I know nothing of its results, nothing of what will become of me when it again takes place, I do not fear it, for the Master of Life and Death is on both sides of the grave, and what He has appointed must be the best thing possible. But to return to the subject. I think we were speaking of life not death.'
'Yes; I was about to ask you if your consciousness or lack of it was similar to my own.'
'In some respects it was, but I was born younger than you. I commenced life on Mars when about thirty; you were evidently about forty-five. I had lived here ten Martial years before I became fully conscious I had dim perceptions of some life outside, and some ideas came from the lower world, but I did not know of the dual life. Probably such knowledge would have been bad for me: imagine a baby, having even in the form of dreams, the experiences of a man. The baby would surely die; his brain would not endure the strain of double consciousness.'
'Then I may become conscious of earthlife at any time?'
'You may, and when you do so there will be a period of great mental confusion. I would like to have you near me then, for having gone through it I can help you to put the two classes of ideas in order.'
'Do you think the earth-dwelling half of me is conscious?'
'I know he is: he has kept a record of his actions in your body and may reveal them to his earth peers. I was conscious in the same way, at first thinking that I had strange dreams. I kept a sort of cursory record, but it has been lost long ago.'
'Did you not say that you continue to take an interest in earth life?'
'I did say so, and I am sorry that you can give me so little direct information. I learned a good deal from you during the half hour of your trance; I saw the heart of Melbourne, and gleaned from that many sociological facts. Australia has advanced materially since I last learned anything. When you obtain consciousness you will he able to tell me much that I would like to know regarding the Sunny South; at present, however you have all to learn. The earth side of you can draw a few comparisons; can see that the two civilisations are widely different; but that is far the duller half. The earth body is opaque and heavy, and its brain responds but slowly to the stimulus of the soul. It is more an automaton than anything else. What thought you of the appearance of the people of Melbourne?'
'I thought them unhappy,' I replied. 'I but once saw a smiling face, and that appeared to smile as if selfishly gratified. There seemed to be a rich abundance of good things, and many pretty ones. The people, too, seemed to carry about with them a deal of personal property, as if they liked to show that they had it, a thing we never think of, and those who dwelt in the houses massed together in such ugly confusion appeared to have filled their windows with all they possessed. Behind one piece of glass I saw beautiful and strange flowers, but behind another there were heaped shapeless lumps of animal matter. On the whole I did not like what I saw, and I wonder how my earth half endures it.'
'Still, the civilisation you found in Melbourne is considered high, and its people are reckoned as very progressive.'
'Then why such heat and dust? Why such foul smells? Why so much hurrying and crushing? And why, if they are a civilised people, are they all striving to be first, to get best places, as they did at the railway station? Our crowds are far bigger than theirs, but we never push each other about and speak harshly. We can dispose of our crowd in half the time they can, or less.
'I will answer some of these questions for you, my son, some other time; meanwhile I may tell you the reason for the general unhappiness—it is selfishness. All those people are trying to get and hold the good things of life for themselves and their families. They are not yet aware that happiness is found in seeking to benefit others.'
'We are slowing down; is this the Ocean Terminus.'
'It is. We have now to go five thousand two hundred miles by sea. It is twenty hours since we met my son, and I seem to have known you as many years. If, without putting any passenger to inconvenience, we can spend our time on board together now and then I shall be grateful. The society of a young and intelligent man or woman is gratifying to me, especially if I see that the gratification is mutual. Do not, however, devote all your time to me; there will be hundreds of young people whom you do not know, and you may form profitable acquaintances. If by any chance we get separated do me the favour of making my house the first place of call. The Central Executive has had the kindness to give me a residence exactly opposite the principal entrance to the Metropolitan Museum.'
Quietly and gently our great express comes to a stand, and we get out. We have no need to trouble about our luggage; it will be taken care of by the officials until we want it. No thieves will steal it; even in the great metropolis there are no prisons. The platform we step on is composed of springy rubber, and the footways in the streets of the port—Port Howard as it is called—are of the same material. It is pleasant to walk upon, and the feet make no sound.
My elderly companion, whom I now know as having a world-wide fame as a mathematician, Andrew Grayson, takes the lead, and in a few minutes we find ourselves in a great hostel with some thousand guests. We find that a vessel leaves in an hour and another in two days, but that the former has to call at two southern ports while the latter goes direct. My companion decides for me; we will wait two days. There are some objects of interest he desires to show me.
It is late in the afternoon. We had partaken of dinner in the train. There was still a couple of hours before dark, but not time for any extended excursion. My companion, whom I discovered to have a weakness, pardonable in a man of his age, for warmth and quiet, elected to rest in his cosy sitingroom. I went out for a walk by the sea shove. It was my first view of the ocean. I had read of it and seen sea pictures, the work of some of the first artists of our planet, but I did not realise the vastness of the scene until brought face to face with it.
Its ceaseless motions impressed me most strangely. It was never still; it appeared like an awful monster having a life of its own. Of course I knew that each time the moon passed over it caused a small tide, and that the outer satellite passed over once in thirty hours causing another, and that occasionally the ocean was acted upon by both at once. There are men of science who say that if we were deprived of our satellites our two great oceans would stagnate and kill us all by their putridity.
I spent hours by the sea shore, and saw how my journey had displaced the constellations. The Southern Cross and the Darkened Window were barely above the horizon, and the moons were both passing overhead. The little one suddenly dropped into the shadow of its primary. I went to my hostel, and full of new and strange thoughts, went to sleep.
Early next morning my friend Grayson asked me to accompany him to one of the sights of Port Howard. I was ready and willing, and in a few moments we were in a small air boat going towards a mountain that on one side bounded our horizon. In an hour we landed on the top of it.
'What think you of the view?' asked Grayson.
'It is far the vastest I have seen, and with the ocean and sky on one hand, and the great plain all around, it can be called grand. But it is beautiful also, for I do not see a space of neglected or uncultivated ground.'
'Quite true. I brought you here to show you one of the greatest works ever attempted by man. For several thousands of years this was a desolate swamp; prior to that time it was a shallow sea, and earlier still a deep sea. To explain these changes I should have to go into the geological history of the planet, with which you are already conversant. For you have been taught that at one time we had more sea than land, and that water in actual quantity and in space occupied is gradually but surely diminishing.'
'Yes. Gaston, our teacher, told us that in one of his delightful talk; he also said that the human and other dwellers on our planet at that time had more water in their composition.'
'He was right: and what was true of our planet then is true of the earth at present. The body in which you spent half-an-hour the other day is four-fifths water, the one in which you dwell to-day has a higher temperature, is less dense, is lighter and more active, and is not quite half water. Possibly nature means something by making changes of structure come about gradually with changes of surroundings. But we are here to study a work of man as helping nature. All the land that we see from this mountain top, and thousands of miles that we cannot see, lay for thousands of years a pestivorous swamp. Here and there was a deep lagoon, and here and there a patch of tropical forest. Reptiles, wading birds, deadly snakes, were the principal inhabitants of this vast area. For hundreds of miles on all sides the land was rendered unhealthy by this dreadful space that seemed not to know whether to be water or land. The wind that passed over this region carried miasma and death with it upon all Bides. People had to live in this miasmatic area, for the soil was rich and bread was wanted. Thousands of deaths occurred every year from atmospheric poisoning and still the land was tilled, and in a while people were bred who seemed to thrive on poison.'
'That I should call a case of local adaptation. A moment ago you spoke of planetary adaptation of structure to surroundings.'
'Just so. It is a question of time and degree: in one a modification of heredity renders a few families incapable of suffering certain complaints; in the other whole species and races, of beings subdue themselves and their surroundings by adaptation of one to the other by gradual, and probably almost imperceptible changes.'
'And how was this great change finally brought about? How do we got a mountain and a rich and fertile plain where for ages there was such a waste?' asked I.
'We get it from the brain of a great engineer. A man planned the work and it took nearly two hundred years to accomplish. The reclaimed land is called the Central Plain, but the mountain on which we stand is called Mount Weston, after John Weston, who designed the whole work. The land is nearly one-twentieth of the land surface of the planet. Two beautiful rivers drain it, and the great trunk line on which we travelled yesterday runs right through it. It is, as you see, an agricultural land, and thinly populated. We do not put city areas upon built lands. Thinly populated as it is, however, no less than fifty branch lines from North and South are required for its produce and passengers. The lines are part of the plan. The engineer seemed to know what would be wanted from the beginning.'
'From whence did he get all the material used?'
'He got all of it from the underground lines. Of these a dozen were being pushed forward at once, and some of the material has travelled over four thousand miles. The first survey occupied Weston and a staff of one hundred men for five years. To begin with an air boat could not cross, because one could not carry electricity enough. Cables had to be laid and stations erected, and the course of the two rivers was partly determined by the lagoons; they were found in some places to form chains and flow into each other. They flow into the sea with currents a quarter of a mile wide and twenty feet deep, and they are navigable along their whole length, and are much used in the carriage of building material and heavy traffic.'
'Weston worked on a definite plan. In draining and filling he took care not to bury any soil or material that could enrich the soil. As he brought up the level of the dry land he covered it with soil and made it into farms, and built houses on piles. In many places he put sleeping rooms in the air on piles twenty feet high, for he found that by getting so far above ground that many people ceased to suffer from malarial complaints.'
'As a result of his wise action his army of workers soon grew food enough to sustain them, and as they pushed ever forward with their enterprise they left rich and cultivated land behind them. This was rapidly disposed of and rendered ever more and more fertile by good management.'
'And the mountain; it also must have been built?'
'True. When the plain was well nigh finished the engineers found that they would have some millions of yards of material to spare, and they decided to pile it in one vast heap and to plant the heap with forest trees, and make it into an elevated reserve and a monument of the engineer for ever. The plough has never to touch its surface, and the small and harmless animals and birds that congregate here have never to be hunted unless they become too numerous and damage the crops on the plain. As for the evil beasts that dwelt in the swamp they are all exterminated.'
'That is the case all over the planet, is it not?'
'I am thankful to say that it is: more than that, many noxious and poisonous insects have been abolished by our improvements, and even dangerous animalculæ have gone the same way. We found out that our most dangerous foes could only be seen under the microscope many ages ago and we fought them. They were more dangerous and more to be dreaded than tigers or lions, wolves or snakes. In the foolish war times they were more deadly than the sword.'
'You have certainly shown me a great wonder, and have made it into one of the best object lessons I have ever had. How I wish that you could spare the time to show me some more of our wonderful world.'
'A wonderful world indeed, and principally made such since the Federation of the nations and the declaration of Eternal Peace. Naturally, ours is but a little third rate planet, a ragged starveling, cold by reason of its distance from the sun. When all our armies and navies were disbanded the labor market was swamped, and the Grand Federal Government had to consider the problems of labor and bread. It was then that army contingents were sent to the waste places to purify them and make them fertile, and the men worked together and had a common speech, and married and settled on the reclaimed lands, and in time forgot their national prejudices and became one nation. Had we not united in some such way these great works could not have been undertaken, and our little planet would only have maintained in comfort about one-tenth of its present number of inhabitants. But we must go and dine, and then I will show you a case of perpetual motion.'
'Where shall we dine? We are one hundred miles or so from our hostel.'
'Steer for the nearest house in the direction of yonder point, for we will visit that after dinner.' By steering north five miles and east three we came to a caravansary near the foot of the mountain, and were well supplied with all we could desire.
After dinner my companion desired to rest an hour, and I was left to my own reflections. I went and took a seat in a small arbour that opened upon a pretty lawn and small flower garden, beyond which was a rich vegetable garden surrounded by fruit trees, and further the open plain and men at work preparing the ground for the first crop.
'Ahem! ahem!' says a voice behind me. I looked round and saw an elderly woman almost behind me. I moved aside, apologised for not having seen her and for my intrusion, and offered to withdraw.
'Nay, my young friend, it was not for that reason that I made my presence known. I saw you at dinner in company with the world-known Grayson and wished then to know more of you, and especially to learn how you came to possess the Badge of Freedom at such an early age.'
I gave her an account of my father's work and mine.