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"First," he said, pausing beside the great shining body of the s.p.a.ce ship upon the central dais, "let me take you back many generations, to the time when only this northern continent was inhabited, and the Libars and the Neens were one people.
"In those days, we were of less understanding than the Neens of today. There were no cities; each family lived to itself, in crude huts, tilling the ground and hunting its own food. Then, out of the sky came this." He touched, reverently, the smooth side of the s.p.a.ce ship. "It came to earth at this very spot, and from it, presently, emerged He Who Speaks. Would you inspect the ship that brought Him here?"
"Gladly," I said, and as I spoke, Artur swung open the small circular door. A great ethon flashlight, of a type still to be seen in our larger museums, stood just inside the threshold, and aided by its beams, we entered.
I stared around in amazement. The port through which he had entered led to a narrow compartment running lengthwise of the ship: a compartment twice the length of a man, perhaps, and half the length of a man in breadth. The rest of the ship was cut off by bulkheads, each studded with control devices the uses of which I could but vaguely understand.
Forward was a veritable maze of instruments, mounted on three large panels, the central panel of the group containing a circular lens which apparently was the eyepiece of some type of television disk the like of which I have never seen or heard. From my hasty examination I gathered that the ship operated by both a rocket effect (an early type of propulsion which was abandoned as ineffective) and some form of attraction-repulsion apparatus, evidently functioning through the reddish, pitted disks I had observed around the nose of the ship. The lettering upon the control panels and the instruments, while nearly obliterated, was unmistakably in the same language in which Artur had addressed us.
The ship had, beyond the shadow of doubt, come from Earth!
"Artur," I said gravely, "you have shown me that which has stirred me more than anything in my life. This ship of the air came from my own world, which is called Earth."
"True," he nodded, "that is the name He gave to it: Earth. He was a young man, but He was full of kindness and wisdom. He took my people out of the fields and the forests, and He taught them the working of metals, and the making of such things as He thought were good. Other things, of which He knew, He kept secret. He had small instruments He could hold in His hand, and which roared suddenly, that would take the life of large animals at a great distance, but He did not explain these, saying that they were bad. But all the good things He made for my people, and showed them how to make others.
"Not all my people were good. Some of them hated this great one, and strove against Him. They were makers of trouble, and He sent them to the southern continent, which is called Neen. Those among my people who loved Him and served Him best, He made His friends. He taught them His language, which is this that I speak, and which has been the holy language of His priests since that day. He gave to these friends names from his own country, and they were handed down from father to son, so that I am now Artur, as my father was Artur, and his father before him, for many generations."
"Just a second," I put in. "Artur? That is not--ah! Arthur! That is the name: Arthur."
"Perhaps so," nodded the priest of this unknown Earth-child. "In many generations, a name might slightly change. But I must hasten on with my story, for outside my people become impatient.
"In the course of time, He pa.s.sed away, an old man, with a beard that was whiter than the hair of our new-born children. Here, our hair grows dark with age, but His whitened like the metal of his ship that brought Him here. But He left to us His voice, and so long as His voice spoke to us on the anniversary of the day upon which He came out of the sky, the Neens believed that His power still protected His people.
"But the Neens were only awaiting the time when His voice would no longer sound in the Place. Each year their brown and savage representatives came, upon the anniversary, to listen, and each time they cowered and went back to their own kind with the word that He Who Speaks, still spoke to His people.
"But the last anniversary, no sound came forth. His voice was silenced at last; and the Neens went back rejoicing, to tell their people that at last the G.o.d of the Libars had truly died, and that His voice sounded no more in the Place."
A tense excitement gripped me; my hands trembled, and my voice, as I spoke to Artur, shook with emotion.
"And this voice--it came from where, Artur?" I whispered.
"From here." Sorrowfully, reverently, he lifted, from a niche in the wall, a small box of smooth, shining metal, and lifted the lid.
Curiously, I stared at the instruments revealed. In one end of the horizontal panel was a small metal membrane, which I guessed was a diaphragm. In the center of the remaining s.p.a.ce was thrust up a heavy pole of rusty metal. Supported by tiny brackets in such fashion that it did not quite touch the pole of rusty metal, was a bright wire, which disappeared through tiny holes in the panel, on either side. Each of the brackets which supported the wire was tipped with a tiny roller, which led me to believe that the wire was of greater length than was revealed, and designed to be drawn over the upright piece of metal.
"Until the last anniversary," said Artur sadly, "when one touched this small bit of metal, here,"--he indicated a lever beside the diaphragm, which I had not noted--"this wire moved swiftly, and His voice came forth. But this anniversary, the wire did not move, and there was no voice."
"Let me see that thing a moment." There were hinges at one end of the panel, and I lifted it carefully. An intricate maze of delicate mechanism came up with it.
One thing I saw at a glance: the box contained a tiny, crude, but workable atomic generator. And I had been right about the wire: there was a great orderly coil of it on one spool, and the other end was attached to an empty spool. The upright of rusty metal was the pole of an electro-magnet, energized by the atomic generator.
"I think I see the trouble, Artur!" I exclaimed. One of the connections to the atomic generator was badly corroded; a portion of the metal had been entirely eaten away, probably by the electrolytic action of the two dissimilar metals. With trembling fingers I made a fresh connection, and swung down the hinged panel. "This is the lever?" I asked.
"Yes; you touch it so." Artur moved the bit of metal, and instantly the shining wire started to move, coming up through the one small hole, pa.s.sing, on its rollered guides, directly over the magnet, and disappearing through the other hole, to be wound up on the take-up spool. For an instant there was no sound, save the slight grinding of the wire on its rollers, and then a ba.s.s, powerful voice spoke from the vibrating metal diaphragm: "I am Thomas Anderson," said the voice. "I am a native of a world called Earth, and I have come through s.p.a.ce to this other sphere. I leave this record, which I trust is imperishable, so that when others come to follow me, they may know that to Earth belongs the honor, if honor it be, of sending to this world its first visitor from the stars.
"There is no record on Earth of me nor of my ship of s.p.a.ce, the Adventurer. The history of science is a history of men working under the stinging lash of criticism and scoffing; I would have none of that.
"The Adventurer was a.s.sembled far from the cities, in a lone place where none came to scoff or criticize. When it was finished, I took my place and sealed the port by which I had entered. The Adventurer spurned the Earth beneath its cradles, and in the middle of the Twenty-second century, as time is computed on Earth, man first found himself in outer s.p.a.ce.
"I landed here by chance. My ship had shot its bolt. Perhaps I could leave, but the navigation of s.p.a.ce is a perilous thing, and I could not be sure of singling out my native Earth. This is a happy world, and the work I am doing here is good work. Here I remain.
"And now, to you who shall hear this, my voice, in some year so far away that my bones shall be less than dust, and the mind refuses to compute the years, let me give into your charge the happiness and the welfare of these, my people. May peace and happiness be your portion. That is the wish of Earth's first orphan, Thomas Anderson."
There was a click, and then the sharp hum of the wire re-spooling itself on the original drum.
"Toma annerson," said Artur solemnly: "He Who Speaks." He offered his hand to me, and I understood, as I shook hands gravely, that this old Earth greeting had become a holy sign among these people. And I understood also the meaning of the familiar phrase, "toma annerson"; it was the time-corrupted version of that name they held holy--the name of Thomas Anderson, child of my own Earth, and explorer of s.p.a.ce centuries before Ame Baove saw his first sun.
There is more I could tell of Strobus and its people, but an old man's pen grows weary.
The menace of the Neens, Artur agreed, had been settled forever. They knew now that He Who Speaks still watched over the welfare of his people. The Neens were an ignorant and a superst.i.tious people, and the two great craters made by our atomic bombs would be grim reminders to them for many generations to come.
"You have done all that need be done, John Hanson," said Artur, his face alight with grat.i.tude. "And now you must receive the grat.i.tude of my people!" Before I could protest, he signalled to the men who guarded the four great entrances, and my words were lost in the instant tramp of thousands of feet marching down the broad aisles.
When they were all seated, Artur spoke to them, not in the "holy" language I understood, but in their own common tongue. I stood there by the ship, feeling like a fool, wondering what he was saying. In the end he turned to me, and motioned for me to join him, where he stood near the edge of the dais. As I did so, every person in that monstrous auditorium rose and bowed his head.
"They greet you as the successor to He Who Speaks," said Artur gently. "They are a simple folk, and you have served them well. You are a man of many duties that must soon carry you away, but first will you tell these people that you are their friend, as Toma Annerson was the friend of their fathers?"
For the second time that day I made a speech.
"Friends," I said, "I have heard the voice of a great countryman of mine, who is dead these countless centuries, and yet who lives today in your hearts. I am proud that the same star gave us birth." It wasn't much of a speech, but they didn't understand it, anyway. Artur translated it for them, and I think he embroidered it somewhat, for the translation took a long time.
"They worship you as the successor to Toma Annerson," whispered Artur as the people filed from the great auditorium. "Your fame here will be second only to His, for you saved, to-day, the people He called His own."
We left just as darkness was falling, and as I shot up to the hovering Ertak, the chant of Artur and his bright-robed fellows was the last sound of Strobus that fell upon my ears. They were intoning the praises of Thomas Anderson, man of Earth.
And so, my good Zenian friends, you learn of the first man to brave the dangers of outer s.p.a.ce. He left no cla.s.sic journal behind him as did Ame Baove, nor did he return to tell of the wonders he had found.
But he did take strong root where he fell in his clumsy craft, and if this record, supported only by the log of the Ertak, needs further proof, some five or six full generations from now Strobus will be close enough for doubting Zenians to visit. And they will find there, I have no least doubt, the enshrined Adventurer, and the memory, not only of Thomas Anderson, but of one, John Hanson, Commander (now retired) of the Special Patrol Service.