Search the Sky
THERE was a home base, a gigantic island called Australia, to which they took Ross and Doc Jones in a little car that sprouted no wings and flashed no rockets, but flew.
They lived underground there, invisible to goggling passengers and crewmen aboard the “rockets.” (They weren’t rockets. They were turbo-jets. But it made the children happy to think that they had rockets, so iron filings were added to the hot jet stream, and they sparkled in magnificent display.)
There they were born, and there they spent strange childhoods, learning such things as psychodynamics and teleportation. By the time they were eight months or so old they thought it amusing to converse of Self and the Meaning of Meaning. By eighteen months a dozen infants would chat in terza rima. But by the age of two they had put such toys behind them with a sigh of pleasant regret. They would revert to them only for such purposes as love-making or choral funeral addresses.
They were then of an age to begin their work.
They were born there, and trained there for terrible tasks. And they died there, at whatever risk. For that they would not surrender: their right to die among their own.
But their lives between cradle and grave, those they gave away.
Nursemaids? What else can one call them?
They explained it patiently to Ross and the doctor.
“The pattern emerged clearly in the twentieth century. Swarming slums abrawl with children, children, children everywhere. Walk down a Chicago Southside street, and walk away with the dazed impression that all the world was pregnant. Walk through pretty, pleasant Evanston, and find the impression wrong. Those who lived in Evanston were reasonable people. They waited and thought. Being reasonable, they saved and planned. Being reasonable, they resorted to gadgets or chemicals or continence.
“A woman of the period had some three hundred and ninety opportunities to conceive a child. In the slums and the hills they took advantage of as many of them as they might. But around the universities, in the neighborhoods of the well-educated and the well-to-do, what was the score?
“First, education, until the age of twenty. This left two hundred and ninety-nine opportunities. Then, for perhaps five years, shared work; the car, the mortgage, the furniture, that two salaries would pay off earlier than one. Two hundred and thirty-four opportunities were left. Some of them were seized: a spate of childbearing perhaps would come next. But subtract a good ten years more at the end of the cycle, for the years when a child would be simply too, late—too late for fashion, too late for companionship with the first-born. We started with three hundred and ninety opportunities. We have, perhaps, one hundred and forty-four left.
“Is that the roster complete? No. There is the battle of the budget: No, not right now, not until the summer place is paid for. And more. The visits from the mothers-in-law, the quarterly tax payments, the country-club liaisons and the furtive knives behind the brownstone fronts and what becomes of fertility—they have all been charted. But these are superfluous. The ratio 390:144 points out the inevitable. As three hundred and ninety outweighs one hundred and forty-four, so the genes of the slovenly and heedless outweigh the thoughtful and slow to act.
“We tampered with the inevitable.
“The planet teemed and burst. The starships went forth. The strong, bright, quick ones went out in the ships. Two sorts were left: The strong ones who were not bright, the bright ones who were not strong.
“We are the prisoners of the planet. We cannot leave.
“The children—the witless ones outside—can leave. But who would have them?”
Ross peered into the shifting shadows. “But,” he said, “you are the masters of the planet——”
“Masters? We are slaves! Fully alive only here where we are born and die. Abstracted and as witless as they when we are among them—well we might be. For each of us, square miles to stand guard over. Our minds roving across the traps we dare not ignore, ready to leap out and straighten these children’s toppling walls of blocks, ready to warn the child that sharp things cut and hot things burn. The blue lights—did you think they were machines?” They were us!
“You’re torturing yourselves!” Ross exploded. “Let them die.”
“Let—ten—billion—children—die? We are not such monsters.”
Ross was humbled before their tragedy. Diffidently he spoke of Halsey’s Planet, Ragansworld, Azor, Jones. He warmed to the task and was growing, he thought, eloquent when their smiles left him standing ashamed.
“I don’t understand,” he said, almost weeping.
The voice corrected him: “You do. But you do not—yet—know that you do. Consider the facts:
“Your planet. Sterile and slowly dying.
“The planets you have seen. One sterile because it is imprisoned by ancients, one sterile under an in-driven matriarchal custom, one sterile because all traces of divergence have been wiped out.
“Earth. Split into an incurable dichotomy—the sterility of brainless health, the sterility of sick intellect.