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One For the Team

I’m a fan of science fiction because the genre places no boundaries on the imagination of the writer. Virtually any scenario, from the mundane to the improbable to the bizarre, can be explored. The short story below nicely illustrates the point.

I won’t say more because this particular story is best read without the clutter of an introduction. Well, a short one is okay.

———

Cully

By Jack Egan
Published in Amazing Stories, January 1963

Above him eighty feet of torpid, black water hung like a shroud of Death, and still he heard his ragged breathing. And something else. Cully concentrated on that sound, and the rhythmic pulsing of his heart. Somehow he had to retain a hold on his sanity… or his soul.

After an hour of careful breathing and exploring of body sensations, Cully realized he could move. He flexed an arm; a mote of gold sand sifted upward in the dark water. It had a pleasant color, in contrast with the ominous shades of the sea.

In a few moments, he had struggled to a sitting position, delighting in the curtain of glittering metal grains whirling around him as he moved.

And the other sound. A humming in his mind; a distant burble of tiny voices of other minds. Words swirling in giddy patterns he couldn’t understand.

Shortly thereafter, Cully discovered why he still lived, breathed: a suit. A yellow, plastic, water-tight suit, with an orange-on-black shield on the left breast pocket, and a clear bubble-helmet. He felt weight on his back and examined it: two air tanks and their regulator, a radio, and… the box.

Suit, tanks, regulator; radio, black water, box; sand, sea, stillness.

Cully considered his world. It was small; it was conceivable; it was incomplete.

Where is it?

“Where is what?” He knew he had a voice — a means of communication between others of his kind, using low-frequency heat waves caused by agitation of air molecules. Why couldn’t he make it work?

Words. Thousands of them, at his beck and call. What were they? What did they mean? He shifted uncomfortably in the tight yellow suit, searching the near horizon for…

Where is it?

A vague calling came from beyond the black sea curtain. Objectively, because he could do nothing to stop them, he watched his feet pick up, move forward, put down; pick up, move forward, put down.

Funny. He had the feeling, the concept, that this action held meaning. It was supposed to cause some reaction, accomplish an act.

He wondered at the regular movement of his legs. One of them hurt. A hurt is a sensation of pain, caused by over-loading sensory-units in the body; a hurt is bad, because it indicates something is wrong.

Something certainly was wrong. Something stirred in Cully’s mind. He stopped and sat down on the sandy sea bottom, gracefully, like a ballet dancer. He examined his foot. There was a tiny hole in the yellow plastic fabric, and a thin string of red-black was oozing out. Blood. He knew.

He was bleeding. He could do nothing about it. He got up and resumed walking.

Where is it?

Cully lifted his head in annoyance at the sharp thought.

“Go away,” he said in a low, pleading voice. The sound made him feel better. He began muttering to himself.

“Water, black, s-sand, hurt. Pain. Radio tanks…”

It didn’t sound right. After a few minutes, he was quiet. The manythoughts were calling him. He must go to the manythoughts.

If his foot was bleeding, then something had happened; if something had happened, then his foot was bleeding.

“No!”

If something had happened, then maybe other things had happened — before that. But how could something happen in a world of flat gold sand and flaccid sea? Surely there was something wrong.

Wrong: the state of being not-right; something had happened that was not-right. Cully stared at the edges of the unmoving curtain before him.

Where is it?

It was a driving, promise-filled concept. No words; just the sense that something wonderful lay just beyond reach. But this voice was different from the manythoughts. It was directing his body; his mind was along for the ride.

The sameness of the sea and sand became unbearable. It was too-right, somehow. Cully felt anger, and kicked up eddies of dust. It changed the sameness a little. He kicked more up, until it swirled around him in a thick gold haze, blotting out the terrible emptiness of the sea.

He felt another weight at his side. He found a holster and gun. He recognized neither. Again he watched objectively as his hand pulled the black object out and handled it. His body was evidently familiar with it, though it was strange to his eyes.

His finger slipped automatically into the trigger sheaf. His legs were still working under two drives: the manythoughts’ urging, and something else, buried in him. A longing. Up-and-down, back-and-forth.

Where is it?

Anger, frustration flared in him. His hand shot out, gun at ready. He turned around slowly. Through the settling trail of suspended sand, nothing was visible.

Again he was moving. Something made his legs move. He walked on through the shrouds of Death until he felt a taut singing in his nerves. An irrational fear sprang out in him, cascading down his spine, and Cully shuddered. Ahead there was something. Two motives: get there because it (they?) calls; get there because you must.

Where is it?

The mind-voice was excited, demanding. Something was out there, besides the sameness. Cully walked on, trailing gold. The death-curtain parted…

An undulating garden of blue-and-gold streamers suddenly drifted toward him on an unfelt current. Cully was held, entranced. They flowed before him, their colors dazzling, hypnotic.

Come closer, Earthling, the manythoughts spoke inside his head, soothingly.

Here it is! Cully’s mind shouted.

Cully’s mind was held, hypnotized, but his body moved of its own volition.

He moved again. His mind and the manythoughts’ spoke: fulfillment — almost. There was one action left that must be completed.

Cully’s arms moved. They detached the small black box from his pack. He moved on into the midst of the weaving, gold-laced plants.

Little spicules licked out from their flexing stalks and jabbed, unsensed, into Cully’s body to draw nourishment. From the manythoughts came the sense of complete fulfillment.

From Cully’s mind came further orders.

Lie down. It was a collective concept. Lie still. We are friends.

He could not understand. They were speaking words; words were beyond him. His head shook in despair. The voices were implanting an emotion of horror at what his hands were doing, but he had no control over his body. It was as if it were not his.

The black box was now lying in the sand among the streaming plants. Cully’s fingers reached out and caressed a small panel. A soundless ‘click’ ran through the murkiness.

The strangely beautiful, gold-laced blue plants began a writhing dance. Their spicules withdrew and jabbed, withdrew and jabbed. A rending, silent scream tore the quiet waters.

NO! they cried. It was a negative command, mixed in with the terrible screaming. Turn it off!

“Stop it, stop it!” Cully tried to say, but there were no words. He tried to cover his ears within the helmet, but the cries went on. Emotions roiled the water: pain, hurt, reproach. Cully sobbed.

Something was wrong here; something was killing the plants — the beautiful blue things! The plants were withering, dying. He looked up at them, stupefied, not understanding, tears streaming down his face. What did they want from him? What had he done…

Where is it?

A different direction materialized; a new concept of desire.

Cully’s body turned and crawled away from the wonderful, dying garden, oblivious to the pleadings floating, now weakly, in the torpid water. He scuffed up little motes of golden sand, leaving a low-lying scud along the bottom, back to the little black box in the garden. The plants, the box, all were forgotten by now.

Cully crawled on, not knowing why. A rise appeared; surprise caught Cully unaware. A change in the sameness!

Where is it?

Again the voice was insistent. His desire was close ahead; he did not look back at the black churning on the sea bottom. His legs worked, his chest heaved, words swirled in his mind. He topped the rise.

Below him, in the center of a shallow golden bowl, floated a long, shiny cylinder. Even from here he knew it was huge. He knew other things about it: how heavy it was; how it was; that it carried others of his kind. He had been in it before. And they were waiting for him. He lurched on.

“Captain! Here comes Cully!” the midshipman shouted from the airlock. “Look what they’ve done to him!”

The old man’s grey eyes took in the spectacle without visible emotion. He watched the pathetic, bleeding yellow plastic sack crawl up to the ship and look up. His hands reached down and lifted Cully up into the lock.

They took his suit off and stared with loathing at what had once been a man. A white scar zig-zagged across his forehead. The Captain bent close, in range of the dim blue eyes.

“It was a brave thing you did, Cully. The whole system will be grateful. Venus could never be colonized as long as those cannibals were there to eat men, and drive men mad.”

Cully fingered the scar on his forehead, and looked unseeing into the old man’s compassionate eyes.

“I’m sorry Cully. We all are. But there was no other way. Prefrontal lobotomy, destruction of your speech center… it was the only way you could get past the telepaths and destroy them. I’m sorry, Cully. The race of Man shall long honor your name.”

Cully smiled at the old man, the words churning in his brain; but he did not understand.

Where is it?

The emptiness was still there.

Cully

Original illustration from Amazing Stories by George Schelling.

———

“Cully” is a solid story, skillfully presented and wrapped up nicely at the end. But frankly, I am disturbed — no, appalled — by the idea that we would move in and wipe out a population to make way for our colonists. The thought is horrifying.

Oh, wait. That’s how the Americas got here.

 

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

— Seneca the Younger

###

There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart.

— Jane Austen

###

I have steadily endeavoured to keep my mind free so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (and I cannot resist forming one on every subject) as soon as facts are shown to be opposed to it.

— Charles Darwin

###

People speak sometimes about the “bestial” cruelty of man, but that is terribly unjust and offensive to beasts. No animal could ever be so cruel as a man, so artfully, so artistically cruel.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

« Portrait de Sénèque d'après l'antique » (le Pseudo-Sénèque), b

Seneca

Dostoyevsky F

Dostoyevsky

 

Demagoguery

Not long after Donald Trump became President (I pause to choke back the bile), he hung a portrait of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office.

ap_17073650295814

No surprise there. Jackson, the seventh President, was a decidedly Trump-like guy. As history shows, he was as deplorable, personally and professionally, as Donald himself.

“Old Hickory” was a self-proclaimed People’s President. He railed against political elites and the establishment. He was vain, arrogant, egotistical, and perpetually angry.

Trump (“Old Bone Spur”) denigrates immigrants and minorities to keep his looney tunes supporters in a lather. Jackson, once a slave trader by profession, vilified Native Americans and confiscated their land to gain the support of European whites coming to America.

The fact is, most Americans of Jackson’s time were okay with systematically removing the tribes and taking their land. It was our “Manifest Destiny.” People admired Jackson for what became known as “rugged individualism.”

With the exception of Donald Trump (“Old Grab ‘Em”), no American President has been a total loser, with a record of all negatives and no positives (“Old Zero”). Jackson was as odious and contemptible as Trump, but still competent as a soldier and politician.

Further, unlike Trump, Jackson was a patriotic American. If Jackson were here today, he would be outraged over Trump’s traitorous collaboration with Russia and kowtowing to Putin. He probably would challenge Trump to a duel.

Jackson beats Trump easily in the competence department, but it is undeniable that a pall of hatefulness and cruelty hangs over his life and career.

(I was referring to Jackson, but okay, Trump too.)

The Slave Trade

Andrew Jackson was born in 1767 to a poor Scotch-Irish family on the border between North and South Carolina (both states claim him). As a young man, he became wealthy as a slave trader. He specialized in purchasing slaves in the upper South and selling them at a profit to the plantations of the lower South.

In 1804, Jackson purchased The Hermitage, a large Nashville cotton plantation that, of course, relied on slave labor. When he bought the property, he owned nine slaves. As he acquired more land, he procured more slaves. By 1829, he owned about 100. By the time he died, he owned 150.

Records show that Jackson beat his slaves regularly. He once had a woman whipped in public for “putting on airs.” Also on record are newspaper ads Jackson placed seeking the return of runaway slaves.

One ad offered an extra $10 for every 100 lashes administered to a 30-year-old runaway named Tom, should he be found. In other words, Jackson offered extra money to have the man killed.

The Native Problem

Jackson was equally harsh with Native Americans. As a major general during the War of 1812, he led a lengthy campaign in Alabama against rebellious Creeks (the Creek War, 1813-14).

The Creek Nation was divided. Many believed resisting the U.S. was futile, but hardliners known as “Red Sticks” allied themselves with the British and fought American expansion.

Jackson defeated the Red Stick faction in 1814 and, citing national security, proceeded to confiscate the land of all Creeks without exception, Red Stick or otherwise.

He became a national hero in 1815 when he led American forces to victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans.

In 1817, supposedly without orders from his superiors, Jackson led his forces in an invasion of Florida, which was under Spanish control. His pretext: the Seminoles were giving refuge to escaped slaves. He captured several Spanish forts and claimed the surrounding territory for the United States.

The Spanish government strongly objected, and many in Congress wanted Jackson to be censured. But the hubbub soon died down, and the U.S. acquired Florida in 1821.

In 1824, Jackson ran for President, but lost to John Quincy Adams. In 1828, he ran against incumbent Adams and won.

The Removal

1828 also was the year gold was discovered in Georgia, much of it on tribal land. That discovery sealed the fate of the tribes in the Southeast. Congress immediately drafted the Indian Removal Act, which Jackson signed in 1830.

Under the act, 46,000 people of the Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Seminole nations were removed from their homelands. Most were force-marched 1,000 miles to Oklahoma. At least 6,000 died of exposure, starvation, and disease.

After the removal, the United States turned over about 25 million acres of confiscated Native American land to white settlers. It was a textbook case of ethnic cleansing.

According to Jackson, the removal was fitting and proper. He said this in a speech to Congress in 1833:

That those tribes cannot exist surrounded by our settlements and in continual contact with our citizens is certain. They have neither the intelligence, the industry, the moral habits, nor the desire of improvement, which are essential to any favorable change in their condition.

Established in the midst of another and superior race, and without appreciating the causes of their inferiority or seeking to control them, they must necessarily yield to the force of circumstances and ere long disappear.

“Alarmed at the Prospect”

Jackson was popular among the common folk, but many of his political contemporaries were concerned about his extremism. During the 1824 election, Thomas Jefferson expressed his misgivings in a letter to Daniel Webster:

I feel much alarmed at the prospect of seeing General Jackson President. He is one of the most unfit men I know of for such a place. He has had very little respect for laws and constitutions, and is, in fact, an able military chief.

His passions are terrible. When I was President of the Senate, he was Senator; and he could never speak on account of the rashness of his feelings. I have seen him attempt it repeatedly, and as often choke with rage. His passions are, no doubt, cooler now; he has been much tried since I knew him, but he is a dangerous man.

During his term as President, Jackson opposed efforts to outlaw slavery in the western territories. He also banned the distribution in the southern states of printed material opposing slavery. He said the abolitionists spreading the material were monsters who should “atone for this wicked attempt with their lives.”

100 Duels

A biographer quoted Jackson as saying, “I was born for a storm, and a calm does not suit me.” As evidence of that, Jackson challenged more than 100 men to a duel.

In Jackson’s time, most duels were a show of bravado and bluster that resulted in no bloodshed, although deaths and wounds certainly occurred. But Jackson did kill one man, Charles Dickinson, a rival plantation owner with whom he had feuded for years.

Allowing Dickinson to shoot first, Jackson suffered a serious chest wound. But he stayed on his feet, took careful aim, and returned fire. Dickinson was mortally wounded.

The Death of Rachel Jackson

If being in a constant state of rage was Jackson’s default condition, the death of his wife Rachel in 1828 certainly amplified it.

The elections of 1824 and 1828 were especially nasty on both sides. Adams supporters liberally publicized Jackson’s unsavory record as a slave trader. The Adams campaign accused Jackson of cannibalizing enemy corpses, called his mother a common prostitute, and claimed his father was a mulatto.

Further, Rachel was attacked as a bigamist based on questions about the legality of her divorce from her first husband. An introverted person, she struggled to hold up under the stress of the campaigns.

Shortly after Jackson was elected President, but before he took office, Rachel began having sharp, recurring pains in her arm and shoulder. They were symptoms of a heart attack that killed her a few days later.

Reportedly, when the undertaker came to prepare Rachel for burial, aides had to pull the grief-stricken Jackson from her body.

Jackson blamed his political opponents for hastening Rachel’s death. At her funeral at The Hermitage on Christmas Eve, he told the mourners, “May God Almighty forgive her murderers. I never can.”

Rachel Jackson

Rachel in 1823.

Lack of Reverence

Some years earlier, Jackson had given Rachel a parrot named Poll. Poll was an African Grey Parrot, an intelligent bird noted for its ability to learn words and mimic sounds. They lack vocal chords, but create sounds by controlling the air they exhale.

After Rachel died, Poll became Jackson’s pet and companion. Poll was said to have an extensive vocabulary.

Jackson served two terms as President and retired to The Hermitage in 1837. He remained influential in national politics, but his health steadily declined. He died in 1845 of heart failure and other ailments.

Poll attended his master’s funeral, but only briefly. Reverend William Norment, the clergyman who presided at the funeral, later wrote:

Before the sermon and while the crowd was gathering, a wicked parrot that was a household pet got excited and commenced swearing so loud and long as to disturb the people and had to be carried from the house.

Norment said the parrot “let loose perfect gusts of cuss words” that left people “horrified and awed at the bird’s lack of reverence.”

I wonder whether Poll learned his pottymouth ways from Rachel or Andrew.

African Grey Parrot

A male African Grey Parrot.

Understandably, the word “demagogue” came to mind as I was writing this post. The website Vocabulary.com defines the word thusly:

Demagogue — A political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular passions and prejudices.

The website’s definition of the word “demagoguery” is masterful.

Demagoguery is a manipulative approach — often associated with dictators and sleazy politicians — that appeals to the worst nature of people. Demagoguery isn’t based on reason, issues, and doing the right thing; it’s based on stirring up fear and hatred to control people. For example, a politician who stirs up a fear of immigrants to distract from other issues is using demagoguery. Demagoguery is one of the most negative aspects of politics, but it’s also one that’s all too common.

Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump: two demagogues at the top of their game.

Trump-Jackson-2

 

This Just In

BEAVERTON, OREGON — Four officers and two police dogs responded to a 911 call about an intruder in the bathroom of a Beaverton residence.

The call came from two men who were house-sitting for a nephew. When the officers arrived, they saw a moving shadow under the bathroom door and heard erratic noises inside.

They identified themselves as police, but got no response from the intruder. They warned that police dogs were present, again with no response.

After a 20-minute standoff, the officers burst into the bathroom with guns drawn. Inside was a Roomba vacuum cleaner stuck in a corner and banging periodically against the shower door.

Roomba

LINCOLN, NEBRASKA — Police officers responding to a report of domestic assault took a male occupant of the residence into custody for resisting arrest, obstructing a government operation, false reporting, child neglect, and third degree domestic assault.

The officers knew in advance that one of the residents, 26-year-old Markel Towner, had two open arrest warrants. They found a man matching Towner’s description seated in a parked vehicle. The man identified himself as “Deangelo Towns.”

When the officers placed the man under arrest, he protested that he had done nothing wrong and began to struggle with the officers. Several family members also appeared and tried to interfere, but the man was handcuffed and taken to the city jail.

The police report noted that the subject wore a lanyard around his neck with the name “Markel Towner” on it.

Lanyard

HAINES CITY, FLORIDA — A 68-year-old local man faces DUI charges after he crashed his riding lawnmower into a police car.

The incident happened while the police car was parked in front of a convenience store. The officer heard a crash, ran outside to investigate, and observed a dented bumper on the police car. Next to the vehicle was the subject seated on a riding mower. Connected to the mower was a trailer with a large cooler inside.

The man failed a field sobriety test, and a subsequent blood test revealed the presence of cocaine, which the man accused the police of putting there against his will. He also accused the officers of poisoning him and was taken to a hospital to be examined.

Police said the man has two previous DUI convictions, and his driver’s license has been suspended since 1978, which explains why he needed a riding mower.

Riding mower

 

Tune o’ the Day

(Note: I chose “We Will Rock You” as a Tune o’ the Day because I heard a toddler belting it out in the Jefferson Kroger recently. That kid, he rocked.)

After a concert in 1977, guitarist Brian May of Queen wondered what audiences can do in confined spaces to express themselves. He concluded “They can clap their hands, they can stomp their feet, and they can sing.”

May decided Queen needed a song, something simple and catchy and rousing, that would cause audiences to get involved.

He said he woke up the next morning with the idea for “We Will Rock You” in his head, including the famous STOMP-STOMP-CLAP beat.

The song’s lyrics are a “three ages of man” story. In the first stanza, a boy on the streets dreams of a better life. In the second stanza, as a young man, he still struggles to make something of himself. In the third, he is a defeated old man whose life went nowhere.

(I tried to figure out what the energetic “we will rock you” chorus has to do with the three verses, but I gave up.)

Queen recorded the song in an empty London church because the band liked the acoustics. May said he found some old boards under the stairs that “just seemed ideal to stomp on.”

The stomping was done separately in a studio as the band, the staff, and the recording engineers all joined in to create and record the distinctive STOMP-STOMP-CLAP. No actual drums were used.

Creating a classic rock anthem is a lot of work.

Queen

We Will Rock You

By Queen, 1977
Written by Brian May

Buddy, you’re a boy,
Make a big noise,
Playing in the street,
Gonna be a big man someday.

You got mud on your face, You big disgrace,
Kickin’ your can all over the place, singin’

We will, we will rock you.
We will, we will rock you.

Buddy, you’re a young man,
Hard man,
Shouting in the street,
Gonna take on the world someday.

You got blood on your face, you big disgrace,
Waving your banner all over the place.

We will, we will rock you.
Sing it!
We will, we will rock you.

Buddy, you’re an old man,
Poor man,
Pleading with your eyes,
Gonna make you some peace someday.

You got mud on your face, big disgrace,
Somebody better put you back into your place.

We will, we will rock you.
Sing it!
We will, we will rock you.
Everybody!
We will, we will rock you.
Hmm
We will, we will rock you.

Alright.

 

Last week in the Jefferson Kroger, I was met by a curious sight: approaching me in the aisle was a woman pushing a grocery cart in which was seated a toddler, a boy, who had both arms in the air and was bobbing his head rhythmically.

The sight became curiouser when the child burst into song.

We will
We will
WOCK YOU!

His head bobbed to the beat. He pumped his upraised fists in time to the music playing in his head.

Frankly, he looked barely old enough to talk, much less sing rock songs. But there he was, belting out a tune nicely on key.

A pause of several seconds followed, then

We will
We will
WOCK YOU!

A pause of several seconds followed, then

We will
We will
WOCK YOU!

By then, our carts had passed in the aisle, and they were behind me. Even after I turned down the next aisle, I could still hear the boy singing heartily.

We will
We will
WOCK YOU!

A pause of several seconds followed, then

We will
We will
WOCK YOU!

Eventually, the refrain ceased. Either he was too far away to be heard or his mom shut him up.

Oddly, the mom seemed focused on her shopping and oblivious to the boy’s performance. I wondered briefly if she might be hearing-impaired, but decided that was improbable.

Anyway, the child was truly in the zone, and I was happy for him. It’s good to, you know, let it all hang out.

Keep on rockin’ while you can, kid. The inhibitions, insecurity, and self-consciousness will bubble up soon enough.

We Will Wock You

Wocking the Jefferson Kroger.

The Queen classic We Will Rock You is an interesting song for various reasons, which I will address in my next post, a Tune o’ the Day.

 

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