They Twinkled Like Jewels

by Philip José Farmer

Public Domain

Science Fiction Story: Crane didn't get the nice man's name--until it was far too late to do anything at all about it.

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

Jack Crane lay all morning in the vacant lot. Now and then he moved a little to quiet the protest of cramped muscles and stagnant blood, but most of the time he was as motionless as the heap of rags he resembled.

Not once did he hear or see a Bohas agent, or, for that matter, anyone.

The predawn darkness had hidden his panting flight from the transie jungle, his dodging across backyards while whistles shrilled and voices shouted, and his crawling on hands and knees down an alley into the high grass and bushes which fringed a hidden garden.

For a while his heart had knocked so loudly that he had been sure he would not be able to hear his pursuers if they did get close. It seemed inevitable that they would track him down. A buddy had told him that a new camp had just been built at a place only three hours drive away from the town. This meant that Bohas would be thick as hornets in the neighborhood. But no black uniforms had so far appeared. And then, lying there while the passionate and untiring sun mounted the sky, the bang-bang of his heart was replaced by a noiseless but painful movement in his stomach.

He munched a candy bar and two dried rolls which a housewife had given him the evening before. The tiger in his belly quit pacing back and forth; it crouched and licked its chops, but its tail was stuck up in his throat. Jack could feel the dry fur swabbing his pharynx and mouth.

He suffered, but he was used to that. Night would come as surely as anything did. He’d get a drink then to quench his thirst.

Boredom began to sit on his eyelids. Just as he was about to accept some much needed sleep, he moved a leaf with an accidental jerk of his hand and uncovered a caterpillar. It was dark except for a row of yellow spots along the central line of some of its segments. As soon as it was exposed, it began slowly shimmying away. Before it had gone two feet, it was crossed by a moving shadow. Guiding the shadow was a black wasp with an orange ring around the abdomen. It closed the gap between itself and the worm with a swift, smooth movement and straddled the dark body.

Before the wasp could grasp the thick neck with its mandibles, the intended victim began rapidly rolling and unrolling and flinging itself from side to side. For a minute the delicate dancer above it could not succeed in clenching the neck. Its sharp jaws slid off the frenziedly jerking skin until the tiring creature paused for the chip of a second.

Seizing opportunity and larva at the same time, the wasp stood high on its legs and pulled the worm’s front end from the ground, exposing the yellowed band of the underpart. The attacker’s abdomen curved beneath its own body; the stinger jabbed between two segments of the prey’s jointed length. Instantly, the writhing stilled. A shudder, and the caterpillar became as inert as if it were dead.

Jack had watched with an eye not completely clinical, feeling the sympathy of the hunted and the hounded for a fellow. His own struggles of the past few months had been as desperate, though not as hopeless, and...

He stopped thinking. His heart again took up the rib-thudding. Out of the corner of his left eye he had seen a shadow that fell across the garden. When he slowly turned his head to follow the stain upon the sun-splashed soil, he saw that it clung to a pair of shining black boots.

Jack did not say anything. What was the use? He put his hands against the weeds and pushed his body up. He looked into the silent mouth of a .38 automatic. It told him his running days were over. You didn’t talk back to a mouth like that.


Jack was lucky. As one of the last to be herded into the truck, which had been once used for hauling cattle, he had more room to breathe than most of the others. He faced the rear bars. The vehicle was heading into the sun. Its rays were not as hard on him as on some of those who were so jam-packed they could not turn to get the hot yellow splotch out of their eyes.

He looked through lowered lids at the youths on either side of him. For the last three days in the transie jungle, the one standing on his left had given signs of what was coming upon him, what had come upon so many of the transies. The muttering, the indifference to food, not hearing you when you talked to him. And now the shock of being caught in the raid had speeded up what everybody had foreseen. He was hardened, like a concrete statue, into a half-crouch. His arms were held in front of him like a praying mantis’, and his hands clutched a bar. Not even the pressure of the crowd could break his posture.

The man on Jack’s right murmured something, but the roaring of motor and clashing of gears shifting on a hill squashed his voice. He spoke louder:

Cerea flexibilitas. Extreme catatonic state. The fate of all of us.”

“You’re nuts,” said Jack. “Not me. I’m no schizo, and I’m not going to become one.”

As there was no reply, Jack decided he had not moved his lips enough to be heard clearly. Lately, even when it was quiet, people seemed to have trouble making out what he was saying. It made him mildly angry.

He shouted. It did not matter if he were overheard. That any of the prisoners were agents of the Bureau of Health and Sanity didn’t seem likely. Anyway, he didn’t care. They wouldn’t do anything to him they hadn’t planned before this.

“Got any idea where we’re going?”

“Sure. F.M.R.C. 3. Federal Male Rehabilitation Camp No. 3. I spent two weeks in the hills spying on it.”

Jack looked the speaker over. Like all those in the truck, he wore a frayed shirt, a stained and torn coat, and greasy, dirty trousers. The black bristles on his face were long; the back of his neck was covered by thick curls. The brim of his dusty hat was pulled down low. Beneath its shadow his eyes roamed from side to side with the same fear that Jack knew was in his own eyes.

Hunger and sleepless nights had knobbed his cheekbones and honed his chin to a sharp point. An almost visible air clung to him, a hot aura that seemed to result from veins full of lava and eyeballs spilling out a heat that could not be held within him. He had the face every transie had, the face of a man who was either burning with fever or who had seen a vision.

Jack looked away to stare miserably at the dust boiling up behind the wheels, as if he could see projected against its yellow-brown screen his retreating past.

He spoke out of the side of his mouth. “What’s happened to us? We should be happy and working at good jobs and sure about the future. We shouldn’t be just bums, hobos, walkers of the streets, rod-hoppers, beggars, and thieves.”

His friend shrugged and looked uneasily from the corners of his eyes. He was probably expecting the question they all asked sooner or later: _Why are you on the road?_ They asked, but none replied with words that meant anything. They lied, and they didn’t seem to take any pleasure in their lying. When they asked questions themselves, they knew they wouldn’t get the truth. But something forced them to keep on trying anyway.

Jack’s buddy evaded also. He said, “I read a magazine article by a Dr.

Vespa, the head of the Bureau of Health and Sanity. He’d written the article just after the President created the Bureau. He viewed, quote, with alarm and apprehension, unquote, the fact that six percent of those between the ages of twelve and twenty-five were schizophrenics who needed institutionalizing. And he was, quote, appalled and horrified, unquote, that five percent of the nation were homeless unemployed and that three point seven percent of those were between the ages of fourteen and thirty. He said that if this schizophrenia kept on progressing, half the world would be in rehabilitation camps. But if that occurred, the sane half would go to pot. Back to the stone age. And the schizos would die.”

He licked his lips as if he were tasting the figures and found them bitter.

“I was very interested by Vespa’s reply to a mother who had written him,” he went on. “Her daughter ended up in a Bohas camp for schizos, and her son had left his wonderful home and brilliant future to become a bum. She wanted to know why. Vespa took six long paragraphs to give six explanations, all equally valid and all advanced by equally distinguished sociologists. He himself favored the mass hysteria theory.

But if you looked at his gobbledegook closely, you could reduce it to one phrase, We don’t know.

“He did say this--though you won’t like it--that the schizos and the transies were just two sides of the same coin. Both were infected with the same disease, whatever it was. And the transies usually ended up as schizos anyway. It just took them longer.”

Gears shifted. The floor slanted. Jack was shoved hard against the rear boards by the weight of the other men. He didn’t answer until the pressure had eased and his ribs were free to work for more than mere survival.

He said, “You’re way off, schizo. My hitting the road has nothing to do with those split-heads. Nothing, you understand? There’s nothing foggy or dreamy about me. I wouldn’t be here with you guys if I hadn’t been so interested in a wasp catching a caterpillar that I never saw the Bohas sneaking up on me.”

While Jack described the little tragedy, the other allowed an understanding smile to bend his lips. He seemed engrossed, however, and when Jack had finished, he said:

“That was probably an ammophila wasp. Sphex urnaria Klug. Lovely, but vicious, little she-demon. Injects the poison from her sting into the caterpillar’s central nerve cord. That not only paralyzes but preserves it. The victim is always stowed away with another one in an underground burrow. The wasp attaches one of her eggs to the body of a worm. When the egg hatches, the grub eats both of the worms. They’re alive, but they’re completely helpless to resist while their guts are gnawed away.

Beautiful idea, isn’t it?

“It’s a habit common to many of those little devils: _Sceliphron cementarium, Eumenes coarcta, Eumenes fraterna, Bembix spinolae_, Pelopoeus...”

Jack’s interest wandered. His informant was evidently one of those transies who spent long hours in the libraries. They were ready at the slightest chance to offer their encyclopaedic but often useless knowledge. Jack himself had abandoned his childhood bookwormishness. For the last three years his days and evenings had worn themselves out on the streets, passed in a parade of faces, flickered by in plate-glass windows of restaurants and department stores and business offices, while he hoped, hoped...

“Did you say you spied on the camp?” Jack interrupted the sonorous, almost chanting flow of Greek and Latin.

“Huh? Oh, yeah. For two weeks. I saw plenty of transies trucked in, but I never saw any taken out. Maybe they left in the rocket.”


The youth was looking straight before him. His face was hard as bone, but his voice trembled.

“Yes. A big one. It landed and discharged about a dozen men.”

“You nuts? There’s been only one man-carrying rocket invented, and it lands by parachute.”

“I saw it, I tell you. And I’m not so nutty I’m seeing things that aren’t there. Not yet, anyway!”

“Maybe the government’s got rockets it’s not telling anybody about.”

“Then what connection could there be between rehabilitation camps and rockets?”

Jack shrugged and said, “Your rocket story is fantastic.”

“If somebody had told you four years ago that you’d be a bum hauled off to a concentration camp, you’d have said that was fantastic too.”

Jack did not have time to reply. The truck stopped outside a high, barbed wire fence. The gate swung open; the truck bounced down the bumpy dirt road. Jack saw some black-uniformed Bohas seated by heavy machine guns. They halted at another entrance; more barbed wire was passed. Huge Dobermann pinschers looked at the transies with cold, steady eyes. The dust of another section of road swirled up before they squeaked to a standstill and the engine turned off.

This time, agents began to let down the back of the truck. They had to pry the pitiful schizo’s fingers loose from the wood with a crow-bar and carry him off, still in his half-crouch.

A sergeant boomed orders. Stiff and stumbling, the transies jumped off the truck. They were swiftly lined up into squads and marched into the enclosure and from there into a huge black barracks. Within an hour each man was stripped, had his head shaven, was showered, given a grey uniform, and handed a tin plate and spoon and cup filled with beans and bread and hot coffee.

Afterwards, Jack wandered around, free to look at the sandy soil underfoot and barbed wire and the black uniforms of the sentries, and free to ask himself where, where, wherewherewhere? Twelve years ago it had been, but where, where, where, was... ?


How easy it would have been to miss all this, if only he had obeyed his father. But Mr. Crane was so ineffectual...

“Jackie,” he had said, “would you please go outside and play, or stay in some other room. It’s very difficult to discuss business while you’re whooping and screaming around, and I have a lot to discuss with Mr.--”

“Yes, Daddy,” Jack said before his father mentioned his visitor’s name.

But he was not Jack Crane in his game; he was Uncas. The big chairs and the divan were trees in his imaginative eyes. The huge easy chair in which Daddy’s caller (Jack thought of him only as “Mister”) sat was a fallen log. He, Uncas, meant to hide behind it in ambush.

Mister did not bother him. He had smiled and said in a shrill voice that he thought Jack was a very nice boy. He wore a light grey-green Palm Beach suit and carried a big brown leather briefcase that looked too heavy for his soda straw-thin legs and arms. He was queer-looking because his waist was so narrow and his back so humped. And when he took off his tan Panama hat, a white fuzz exploded from his scalp. His face was pale as the moon in daylight. His broad smile showed teeth that Jack knew were false.

But the queerest thing about him was his thick spectacles, so heavily tinted with rose that Jack could not see the eyes behind them. The afternoon light seemed to bounce off the lenses in such a manner that no matter what angle you looked at them, you could not pierce them. And they curved to hide the sides of his eyes completely.

Mister had explained that he was an albino, and he needed the glasses to dim the glare on his eyes. Jack stopped being Uncas for a minute to listen. He had never seen an albino before, and, indeed, he did not know what one was.

“I don’t mind the youngster,” said Mister. “Let him play here if he wants to. He’s developing his imagination, and he may be finding more stimuli in this front room than he could in all of outdoors. We should never cripple the fine gift of imagination in the young. Imagination, fancy, fantasy--or whatever you call it--is the essence and mainspring of those scientists, musicians, painters, and poets who amount to something in later life. They are adults who have remained youths.”

Mister addressed Jack, “You’re the Last of the Mohicans, and you’re about to sneak up on the French captain and tomahawk him, aren’t you?”

Jack blinked. He nodded his head. The opaque rose lenses set in Mister’s face seemed to open a door into his naked grey skull.

The man said, “I want you to listen to me, Jack. You’ll forget my name, which isn’t important. But you will always remember me and my visit, won’t you?”

Jack stared at the impenetrable lenses and nodded dumbly.

Mister turned to Jack’s father. “Let his fancy grow. It is a necessary wish-fulfillment play. Like all human young who are good for anything at all, he is trying to find the lost door to the Garden of Eden. The history of the great poets and men-of-action is the history of the attempt to return to the realm that Adam lost, the forgotten Hesperides of the mind, the Avalon buried in our soul.”

Mr. Crane put his fingertips together. “Yes?”

“Personally, I think that some day man will realize just what he is searching for and will invent a machine that will enable the child to project, just as a film throws an image on a screen, the visions in his psyche.

“I see you’re interested,” he continued. “You would be, naturally, since you’re a professor of philosophy. Now, let’s call the toy a specterscope, because through it the subject sees the spectres that haunt his unconscious. Ha! Ha! But how does it work? If you’ll keep it to yourself, Mr. Crane, I’ll tell you something: My native country’s scientists have developed a rather simple device, though they haven’t published anything about it in the scientific journals. Let me give you a brief explanation: Light strikes the retina of the eye; the rods and cones pass on impulses to the bipolar cells, which send them on to the optic nerve, which goes to the brain...”

“Elementary and full of gaps,” said Jack’s father.

“Pardon me,” said Mister. “A bare outline should be enough. You’ll be able to fill in the details. Very well. This specterscope breaks up the light going into the eye in such a manner that the rods and cones receive only a certain wavelength. I can’t tell you what it is, except that it’s in the visual red. The scope also concentrates like a burning-glass and magnifies the power of the light.

“Result? A hitherto-undiscovered chemical in the visual purple of the rods is activated and stimulates the optic nerve in a way we had not guessed possible. An electrochemical stimulus then irritates the subconscious until it fully wakes up.

“Let me put it this way. The subconscious is not a matter of location but of organization. There are billions of possible connections between the neurons of the cortex. Look at those potentialities as so many cards in the same pack. Shuffle the cards one way and you have the common workaday cogito, ergo sum mind. Reshuffle them, and, bingo! you have the combination of neurons, or cards, of the unconscious. The specterscope does the redealing. When the subject gazes through it, he sees for the first time the full impact and result of his underground mind’s workings in other perspectives than dreams or symbolical behavior. The subjective Garden of Eden is resurrected. It is my contention that this specterscope will some day be available to all children.

“When that happens, Mr. Crane, you will understand that the world will profit from man’s secret wishes. Earth will be a far better place.

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