Story time! Obscure author Richard DeWitt Miller contributed a mere handful of stories to Astounding Science Fiction during the late 1930s. The story reproduced below is one of my favorite SF stories. Entitled “The Master Shall Not Die!” it deals rather ingeniously with the themes of immortality and utopia. It dates from the March 1938 issue, and as far as I know it has never been reprinted since.
According to Ashley’s Index to Astounding and Bleiler’s Science Fiction: The Gernsback Years, Miller lived from 1910-58, and was a “psychic researcher” who, aside from his small output of SF stories, also authored a few books recounting some supposedly true supernatural experiences from various sources. A partial bibliography of Miller’s other works can be found on the ISFDB.
Miller later expanded the basic idea of this story into the novel The Man Who Lived Forever, published in 1956 as part of an Ace Double (D-162). The book version is sadly rather mediocre, more of a romance story than SF, and it removes the elements that made the original story so dramatic. He wrote this expanded version in collaboration with a woman named Anna Hunger. According to the ISFDB, this might be the same “Anna Hunger” who worked as a scriptwriter for film and television.
This novel was later published in Great Britain in 1958 under the title Year 3097. This British edition is extremely hard to find; in point of fact, I’ve never even seen a copy for sale anywhere. Even basic information is quite scarce — for instance, I don’t know who published it.
The novel version is currently available as a $5 ebook from FictionWise in a variety of formats.
Apart from its inherent worth, it’s also interesting to note that the original short story in all likelihood exerted a heavy influence on the author A.E. van Vogt, who entered the SF field a couple of years afterwards. Firstly, the tale contains some similarities to van Vogt’s Nexialism, as presented in his Space Beagle stories. Also, astute slanfan Mark McSherry (whose recollection of many of van Vogt’s novels is fresher than mine!) pointed out some startling parallels between this story and van Vogt’s novel The Weapon Makers. The character of Robert Hedrock bears a striking resemblance to the Master described in Miller’s story, and Hedrock’s experiments involving rats are almost identical to the Master’s:
Somewhere along the line, the enlarging rays of the vibrator would do to a rat purposely what they had done accidentally to Hedrock fifty-five centuries previously. A rat would become immortal, and provide him with a priceless subject for experiment. Some day, if he succeeded in his search, all men would be immortal.
— The Weapon Makers, chapter 4
Since the book version of van Vogt’s novel was extensively revised from its original appearance, I’ve been unable to find this scene in the 1943 magazine version. It might well be there, but I’d have to read the entire serial to find it. Either way, though, Miller’s work certainly came first, and the similarities are so exact as to rule out mere coincidence.
Since this was one of the very first SF stories I ever digitized several years ago, the scans are not as high quality as you’re used to seeing on Space Rubbish. In addition to the digitized story below, the original scans are also available for download here (12.7 MB).
Also, this digitization is an exact duplication of the original text, including all of the original typos. Since this was created using an OCR (optical character recognition) program, there may also be some odd typos which are of my own doing, despite my efforts to manually correct them. OCR typos usually stand out like sore thumbs, though, so they should be easy to distinguish from the correct typos (if that makes any sense!). But OCR typos should be very few, if they are even present at all.
I also digitized the lead story from this issue, the highly imaginative “Something From Jupiter” by Dow Elstar (aka Raymond Z. Gallun). Like Miller’s story, it too has never been reprinted, yet deserves to be remembered, so I also intend to post it here in a week or so.
Astounding Science Fiction
Cover by H.W. Wesso
THE Master wished suddenly that he might experience the thing called death. It would at least give life an end — if not a meaning.
What was beyond that door of darkness toward which Time herded all other men? At the moment he did not much care. His interest was limited to a mild curiosity. His concern with death was merely a weariness with life.
He was not a stranger to that feeling. Often it had come to him during the lonely hours when he had struggled in this room, seeking to integrate the ever more complex science of the world. His was the ultimate loneliness of a bit of eternity marooned in a world fettered to time.
Out of the stream of memories rushing past the focal point of his mind faces smiled at him, hands reached out for him voices spoke softly — friends, companions, associations — men and women he had worked with and loved.
“Come,” they called faintly, “come with us. This is the way that men must go.”
But be could not follow them. For the Master could taste any wine but old age and death. And there was no help for it! Unless— Out of his consciousness swirled again the idea which had become the center of his existence. If I cannot die — then I must make all men deathless.
In an effort to bring his mind back to the reality of the moment, he glanced at his hands. They were decidedly the hands of an aging man. Thirty years before they had been smooth, except for the supple modeling of powerful, accurate muscles. Now a complex pattern of wrinkles was beginning to crisscross the softening flesh.
Once more the cycle had run. It was time to turn back the physiological clock again. For the brain that integrated science must not be housed by an old body; if the Master grew old, he would die, and the thread going back almost ten centuries would be broken.
That thread must not break now. It was still too soon. If the Master died, the machine would win and man would lose.
He pressed a buzzer calling his chief assistant. While he waited, the Master strode to the window and stood looking at the city outside which flung up its giant complexity into the coming night.
Level after level of traffic lanes stretched below him. On his own level a giro landing was hard pressed to handle the evening crowd. Far across the city he could make out the tower of the central rocket station, its gigantic projector arm pointing squarely at the setting sun.
Yes, he thought, man had done well. He had reduced the machine to slavery. He had conquered his environment except for the last long jump.
“You rang, Master.”
“Yes, Hubbard. Is the donor here?”
“He is waiting outside.”
“He has been told, of course, that it means giving up his life?” It always seemed strange to the Master that he must ask that same question every thirty years. It was hard sometimes to remember that all the men about him, all the assistants and technicians, changed every generation.
“Yes, Master. After the committee of physicians selected him, he was told exactly what was ahead. He is entirely willing to give his life.”
The Master did not turn from the window. His face was immobile, the features highlighted by the last of the sunlight.
* * *
IT HAD COME again — the moment when he must face the man whose life would be traded for his youth. His mind went back over the long line of gallant young men who had died that the Master might be deathless. He thought of their strong, steady faces as they had offered their lives on the altar of man’s inability to cope with the machine. It was not fair.
Hubbard sensed the Master’s somber mood, and said softly, “You have done a great work. You have saved man.”
The Master shook his head.
“No, Hubbard, I didn’t do it. They did — all those men like the one waiting outside. They gave their lives for me.”
“Not for you — for science.”
“Then it’s up to science to pay them back.”
“But that cannot be done.”
The Master did not answer. There was no advantage in telling Hubbard. It would only make trouble. After a long silence he returned to his desk. “Send the donor in,” he said finally.
The young man who came into the room was a beautiful specimen of physical development. It seemed to the Master that each time the donor was stronger and finer.
“I am ready, Master,” the man said quietly.
The Master shook his head.
“The operation will not be performed until to-morrow. I wish to talk to you first. I have always done so.”
“As you wish, Master.”
The young man stood with his head thrown back, his massive shoulders relaxed.
The Master wondered if the man would prefer to have it over at once. But there was no way to find out. For a thousand years the Master’s orders had been final on all matters. That fact was ingrained into the people of the world. For centuries it had not been questioned. They accepted the Master as a necessary part of their lives — as necessary as water or air.
They were free to quarrel among themselves, so long as they did not use the weapons of science for destruction. They could change their forms of government. They could deal with all matters except those concerning science and the machine. That had been the decision of the great meeting a thousand years before.
The political governments were guarded by the world-wide organization of scientists from any action which, would permit the machine to destroy human happiness — instead of increasing it. A few times the political leaders had become arrogant. That arrogance had been short lived. Scientists knew how to make their decisions final. But that, had been long ago. For centuries there had been peace and understanding among men.
Above the scientists was the Master. He was the focal point toward which all the branches of science led. Through him they were combined for a single purpose — the welfare of the human race. There had been little trouble. Scientists were thinkers; they understood the necessity of a single intelligence which could untangle their troubles by seeing all science instead of only one little corner. It was all a matter of perspective — the focal length of your mental lens.
THE MASTER realized that his mind was going backward again, reviewing a past that no longer mattered. The way of science was forward — not back. He concentrated his attention on the man before him.
“What is your name?” he asked.
A queer hopeful expression flicked across the face of the Master.
“Do you know anything about Dr. Martell’s experiments?”
“Yes,” Norgard said with sudden interest. “I studied with him for two years.”
The Master did not follow the lead. Instead he looked steadily past Norgard at the tracework of neo-tubes lighting the city outside. Finally he said: “I know that the committee has informed you of the operation you face, of the fact that your life must be exchanged for my youth. But they probably did not explain the events a thousand years ago which led to the creation of my position in the new scientific world. The facts of that great convention were once familiar to all scientists, but that was long ago. Men forget. At present they accept me without questioning or seeking to discover why I exist. They accept me as inevitable, as the snow and wind are inevitable. They forget that I — or rather, my position in the world — was created by men, for the use of men.”
“I know the situation well enough to appreciate the part I have to play,” Norgard said quietly. “That is all I wish to know.”
“You have a right to know everything,” the Master replied. “You have every right to be told the exact circumstances by the one man who was alive at the time it begun. Therefore, I will explain it to you. It has been my custom to do so to all the donors.”
He pulled his mind away from the plan which was taking vague outline, and concentrated on the story which he had told so many weary times.
“About the year 2500, men of science discovered that it was impossible for men in brief human lifetimes to cope with the machine. By that time the machine had become so complex that it had outstripped the knowledge which any single human brain could amass in one lifetime.
“Not only had each single machine become inconceivably complex, but each type of work involved the use of many types of apparatus. Each apparatus had its own set of technicians. It was a specialty requiring a lifetime of study to understand. But some single person must be able to coordinate all the different types of machines. Such a person would require complete knowledge in all the fields of science. Such knowledge could only be gained in many ordinary lifetimes. The human mind was not limited — but the time to learn was.
“The result was that machines began to fail to perform their functions. But human beings had in the meantime become accustomed to a highly civilized form of life. Comforts had rapidly become necessities. Men could no longer go back to the older, cruder way of life. The scarcity of the more complex types of machinery and of men capable of operating them caused unrest and war. It had become a battle between man and the machine, with man on the losing end.
“The more advanced of the scientists saw what had occurred. They called a great meeting of the best thinkers of the race at Lucerne. Many methods of solving the problem were discussed, but it all came back to the same thing. The average man’s lifetime was ten times too short. It still is.”
“Science will solve even that problem some day,” Norgard said slowly.
“Some day. Always some day.” The Master stared at his aging hands.
* * *
“YOU’RE a bio-chemist,” he said suddenly. “Why do we grow old?”
“Stated simply,” Norgard said, his eyes alight with sudden animation, “each organ of the human body poisons every other organ. Waste products are thrown into the blood stream. A certain amount are eliminated from the body — but there is always a small residue. In this way composition of the blood stream is slowly changed. At first this change merely inhibits the growth of the body and so causes maturity. But later the poisons in the blood stream check the replacement of worn-out tissue. The body begins to age. This change of the chemical composition of the blood is final and irreversible.”
“Yes,” the Master said slowly. “It was irreversible a thousand years ago. That one, great problem science has not conquered. It has gone around it — but it has not conquered it. Science has been unable to increase the lifetime of all men, so it has made one man immortal and used the knowledge which a thousand years of constant study has placed in his brain to control and integrate the machine.
“At the great convention I spoke of a moment ago, it was decided to concentrate scientific research on an effort to discover a way to lengthen the average lifetime. I was then an old biologist. Working along the line of reasoning you just outlined, I began experimenting with methods of changing the chemical composition of old blood.
“Failing in this, I thought of simply exchanging the entire blood in an old person’s body for that of a young person. Experiments with animals indicated that it would work. I brought my proposition before a committee of scientists. They agreed to the experiment. A young man offered his blood for the experiment. My blood was exchanged for his. The operation was successful. I became young. But — when my blood was placed in the body of the donor, he died.
“I demanded that the experiments be stopped. You couldn’t turn that data loose. It would cause wholesale murder — for blood.
“Another, great meeting of scientists was called. Every other method of rejuvenation had proved a failure. War, disaster, and death were stalking the Earth. There was no way back; there was no hope unless the machine could be brought under the control of at least one human brain.
“It was decided to create the Master. He would be supreme in all things pertaining to the machine. His blood would be renewed every thirty years. His brain could keep pace with the advance of science, his mind a living storehouse of knowledge. He would integrate the different fields of science. He would control all fields of research for the benefit of man.
“I was selected for the post. The order was issued to the governments of the world. There was some dissension. The scientists used the powers of destruction which they knew so well to make their order effective.
“A generation went by, another. Men began to take me for granted. Peace, plenty, and happiness came again to the world.”
“But why were no more men permitted to stay young?” Norgard asked.
“As I just mentioned, the price was too high. The thing would get out of hand. The world would again be plunged into war — for young blood. One man, and one alone, could be deathless. ”
“But if your experiment was known to the world, why hasn’t it been duplicated? No laws are strong enough to prevent men from seeking eternal youth.”
“Your point,” the Master agreed, “is well taken. In fact, it was brought up at once at the great convention. If the method were universally known, the world would be thrown into anarchy. But the method is not known.”
“You mean that the technique is known only to a few scientists?”
“It is far more closely guarded than that. It is known to me alone. You see, I haven’t been the only investigator who has attempted to accomplish rejuvenation by changing blood. Many other attempts have been made — many more will be made — and all have failed but mine.”
“I know,” Norgard said bitterly. “I found that out in my work. All of a person’s blood cannot be drained from his body or he dies instantly. If the old blood is steadily replaced with new, there is bound to be a certain amount of old blood in the final mixture. That causes death.”
“Why?” the Master asked with a strange undertone of meaning in his voice. “Death does not follow a normal blood transfusion.”
“In such a transfusion,” Norgard replied, “there is always much more of the person’s own blood than that of the donor. The great mass of original blood neutralizes the foreign constituents of the new blood and benefit results from the increase of total hemoglobin. But when there is only a small portion of original blood it acts exactly as would the wrong type of blood given in a transfusion. In other words, it is antagonistic to the new blood, causing it to clot and bringing on death.”
“I see,” the Master said softly, “that you have learned a great deal in your chosen field. I am glad of that. It is not my custom to discuss such matters with a donor. In this case I have had reasons for questioning you.”
“I am happy, Master, that I have pleased you.”
“There is one more point. You spoke a moment ago about a strange constituent or essence of blood. What is this thing which you mention so vaguely?”
* * *
NORGARD smiled slowly. “I wish I knew. Blood is a subtle thing. We have analyzed it in a thousand ways. We have gone down to the atoms which compose it. Always something has escaped us.”
“I understand,” the Master said softly. “I understand, because I, too, have hunted that elusive thing. But the difference is that I found it — or, rather, I found a way to get around it.”
Norgard sprang forward.
“What is it? That is all we need to know.”
The Master shook his head.
“That is the secret I spoke of. It is locked in my brain. Neither you nor any man can get it out.” He looked steadily at Norgard for a moment. “It is that fact which created the Master. Men have tried in many ways to discover it. They have even thought of murder. But they have realized that death would only close my lips forever. Then the world would be without the Master. The situation would be worse than it was a thousand years ago. There would be no one to integrate the science. The machine would win.”
“Master,” Norgard said softly, “I was thinking no such thoughts.”
The Master smiled. “You mistook me. I trust you. My mind had gone back to other men. A thousand years is a long time.”
For a moment there was silence in the little room. The weight of those ten centuries seemed to be a tangible thing forever separating the Master from other men.
At last Norgard said, “Master, may I speak freely?”
“Of course. It is the least I can offer you.”
The Master was thinking swiftly. Here at last was a man able to throw off the ingrained idea that the Master’s merest statement was never to be questioned. Well, why not try his plan tonight? There could never be a better assistant than the man before him.
“Do you realize,” Norgard began slowly, “that your discovery is the one thing necessary to complete our experiments? By not telling us, you are preventing a possible solution to the problem — a solution which would give eternal youth to everyone.”
“You forget, Norgard, one thing. My discovery makes possible the changing of old blood for new. It cannot change the old blood into young blood.”
“But it is a long step. With that beginning our present scientists might do the rest. ”
“And it would fill the world with human vampires fighting for every young son’s blood. I have judged men a long time. I know what temptations they can stand — and what temptations make them insane beasts. And the worst of all is the desire for renewed youth.” He looked away. His words were suddenly bitter. “If a few of them knew what it is to be eternal in a world which death still rules, they might be more reasonable.”
Norgard stood up. His powerful body shut out the lights of the city. His voice was still quiet. “Then I am ready.”
“Remember that the decision of the committee is not final. The most physically fit of the young scientists of this city is always chosen as donor. Scientists have always been chosen, because they know best how to dedicate their lives not to themselves, but to the world. They could probably find another body as good as yours. But — if even the Master may speak frankly — the world will be poorer for losing your mind.”
“I would prefer to be the donor myself. It would be hard, otherwise, to think of the one who must then take my place.”
“As you wish. But think of one other thing. I will not explain the technique now — but for an hour my life and the life of civilization will be in your hands. Your courage had better fail now than then.”
“I am ready, Master.”
“You can expect nothing but death.”
“I am ready.”
The Master looked down at the desk. Yes, he thought, it was a rotten way to run a world. He spoke without looking up.
“Meet me at my private laboratory at ten to-night.”
FOR A LONG TIME after Norgard had gone, the Master did not look at the pile of reports and dispatches on his desk. When he did return to the most urgent of the matters referred to him, he worked with only half his mind.
Rocket transportation to Europe had been disrupted by a mysterious force field which pulled the ships out of their course. The Master called the North European atomic-cracking plant on the television set and asked for a schedule of production.
This revealed that an inventive technician had changed the generator hookup for reasons of local efficiency. This, in turn, had produced an energy by-product which interfered with the wave length on which the rockets operated. The Master ordered a return to the old hookup, until technicians which he dispatched could find a way to cut off the undesired wave length.
Plans for building a new station for extracting basic minerals from sea water were completed. The site of the station was an island in the Pacific. Something about the name of the island struck the Master as significant.
He checked through his memory, called for the history of world events for a period three centuries before, and discovered a volcanic eruption on the island in question. The volcano was now apparently extinct, but a check on cycles of volcanic activity in that region showed a suspicious three-hundred-year cycle. The Master put the matter aside for further investigation.
There was a strange outbreak of insanity among the people of Southern Asia. The psychologists were baffled. The Master weighed possibilities. Some mistake in eugenics thirty years ago? Something wrong with the synthetic food being produced in that section, the inclusion of some apparently harmless chemical, that in combination with some other harmless factor, caused brain deterioration? Or possibly those superhigh frequency waves from the new type radio power station in China? Some of the workers who had experimented with that new power had gone insane.
The Master called for information from several widely separated fields. To-morrow he’d try to untangle the thing.
Somehow all the work of science seemed puny and insignificant compared with what he would attempt that night. Or should he attempt it?
He laid aside the rest of his work and gave his mind over to speculation.
* * *
PLEASING, shadowless radiance flooded the long, domed passageway which led to the Master’s private laboratory. The Master looked at Norgard’s face. It was expressionless.
They walked on down the passage. At the end was a massive door whose surface gleamed with the dull luster of mydonite, the metal which centuries before had replaced steel.
The Master led the way. He set the combination of the delicate lock on the mydonite door.
“No one enters my laboratory except myself and the donors,” he said to Norgard.
As the last number of the combination slipped into place, the great door slid back. Automatically the shadowless light filled the large laboratory.
One entire wall of the room was lined with oblong, casket-shaped cabinets. The front of each was concealed by a curtain on which was printed a number.
“My explanation will be brief,” the Master said, seating himself at a desk in the center of the room. “We covered most of the general points in the discussion this afternoon.”
Norgard sat opposite the Master. Even in the warm light his face was white and harsh. He reached jerkily into his pocket.
“May I smoke?”
“Of course. If there is any other little thing — some one you wish to see? There is much time. A few hours delay will not matter.”
Norgard smoked his cigarette slowly. At last his lips moved. The words were toneless, almost a ritual.
“I am ready, Master.”
The Master shrugged.
“As we agreed this afternoon,” he began, “the trouble has been the inability of science to drain all the blood from a person’s body without causing death. In fact, science has given up that angle and concentrated on methods of performing a continuous transfusion.
“However, I did not neglect that possibility. I gave up my efforts to change the composition of old blood, and concentrated on a method of creating suspended animation during the period between the time that the last of the old blood was drained away and the first of the new substituted.
“A thousand years ago I discovered a method to accomplish this. It is that secret which prevents the world from duplicating my experiments.”
“Lord,” Norgard said, with a sudden caught breath, “we’ve been working from the wrong end all the time.”
“Exactly — but also, fortunately. The day any scientist announces a method of making a complete transfusion of blood — civilization will end in a war for young blood.”
The Master stepped to the end of the line of metal cabinets. He threw back the curtain. The glass-covered box was empty. Swiftly he attached two cables to electrodes which protruded from the box.
Going to an intricate hookup of gleaming condensers and tubes, he threw several switches. Generators deep within the great building whined shrilly as they took the load.
Suddenly the interior of the empty cabinet began to glow with pale, lambent flames. Slowly the Master advanced the control of the central rheostat. In response, the individual flames within the casket coalesced into a single sheet of radiance. Swiftly the color changed from rose to purple, to violet, then gradually faded to a faint iridescent mist.
* * *
THE MASTER cut the power. The scream of the dynamos died to a faint steady pur — but the iridescent mist remained in the cabinet.
“That cabinet,” the Master said softly, “is now charged with what I term life insulation. In a moment it will be your tomb of living death.”
He looked sharply at Norgard, but the young man’s face was still set like white stone. The Master returned to his explanatory tone.
“My original idea was that it is a fundamental mistake to consider the basis of life as chemical. It is electrical, or rather, radioactive.”
“But what has that to do with suspended animation?”
“Everything. To suspend life you must not only suspend chemical activity, but its radioactivity as well. If the chemical factor is not suspended, decay occurs; if the radioactive is not suspended, the vital force, or what might crudely be called life-atom potential, goes back into the well from which it came. Life will never return to such an organism — the spark is gone.”
He strode to the cabinet containing the glowing mist and tapped the glass cover.
“In here I have created a radioactive insulator which will prevent the life potentials from escaping from any organism. At the same time, chemical decay is stopped. Anything bathed in that radioactIve field is completely sterile.”
“But will the field remain in that cabinet?”
The Master smiled slowly.
“Those are not ordinary mydonite boxes, although they appear to be. The walls are double. Within them is created an electro-magnetic charge which prevents the escape of the radioactive field.
“I do not intend to give you the technical details. It took ten ordinary lifetimes for me to perfect it. Originally the field had to be constantly maintained.”
He reseated himself opposite Norgard. “Stated simply,” he said, “I have trapped the human aura. Radium gives off a visable aura; the human body also gives off an aura, but it is visible only under certain rare conditions. That has been known for centuries. But the specialization of the branches of science prevented those two facts being connected. So no one saw the point that the human aura was only the emanations from the subtle radioactivity of the life force.”
“But why,” Norgard asked, “is it necessary to seal your radioactive, field, when suspended animation is only necessary during the period of the transfusion?”
“Because,” the Master said slowly, “I wanted to give the men who have offered their lives for science — a chance to get them back.”
He stepped to the nearest cabinet and slid back the curtain. In the cabinet was the nude form of a powerful young man. About him swirled the same iridescent mist.
Norgard stepped back with a sudden cry.
“Is that the last donor?”
“Exactly. And there, in that tank beside him, is the blood from my body which was exchanged for his.”
“But why — why not let him die and have it over with?”
“As far as his consciousness is concerned, he is dead. He loses nothing. But — he gains the chance of returning to life, if science ever perfects a way to change the old blood in the cabinet to young.”
“But science can never do that.”
The Master’s voice was hard, biting. “It is not for you — or any man — to say what science cannot do.”
NORGARD stood bewildered for a moment. The Master could see his mind struggling between disagreement and the old, ingrained idea of the human race that the Master’s word was final. Slowly the young man’s face became impassive again.
“I am ready, Master. How is the operation done?”
“Very simply. I step into an empty cabinet. You then create the life-insulating field I just described. The blood is pumped out of my body through hoses which pierce the cabinet wall.
“You will set the time clock on the machine for the period of one hour, and step into the cabinet next to mine. You will take with you the tank carrying my blood. After anaesthetizing one arm, you will connect the tubes running to my body, to a vein under your elbow. Last of all, you will close your cabinet and throw the switch which will pump the blood from your body into mine, and at the same time create the field around you.”
“When the hour is over, the time clock will open my cabinet, thereby breaking the radioactive field and returning me to life. As you see, this method permits every centimeter of blood in my body being changed.
“I will now give you detailed instructions covering each part of the procedure.”
With minute care the Master went over each step. He did not explain the theoretical operation and construction of any of the machines. Those belonged in the realm of super-integrated science, which was known only to the Master.
Finally, they rehearsed the technique. When the Master decided that Norgard’s quick mind understood each detail, he stopped and lit another cigarette.
He sat a long time quietly. The smoke drifted up into the clear, motionless air of the room. His mind was making a final review of the possibilities. If he was to make the experiment — it must be done now. If he stepped into the cabinet and gave Norgard the signal to begin the operation, it would be another thirty years before he could try again.
But he might discover final and definite proof of his theory during those thirty years. He shrugged aside possibility. It had always been the same — this hoping that the next time his proof would be perfect. A good many million people died during each of those thirty years. Each time he delayed, their hope of youth was shattered. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair to them or to himself — the immortality-isolated Master. But it did no good to think about it. There was only one way to answer the question.
A wave of the old loneliness surged over him. If only he could give eternal youth to all men— There was no freedom for the human race until it conquered death.
He stood up. His face was steady with the calm strength that had ruled the scientific world ten centuries. His quiet voice seemed somehow too big for the room.
“Norgard, I told you this afternoon that you could expect nothing but death. You have accepted that statement with a courage that is a credit to the scientists of the world. There was something else which I might have told you but I had not quite decided on the matter. I have now.
“Since the beginning of this strange cycle which has made me immortal, I have had a dream. It was a dangerous dream. Therefore, I told no one. I worked in my laboratory. I failed. I failed again and again — how many times I do not know. Ten centuries of my memory are scattered with the ruins of such hopes. Almost a hundred years ago I achieved what was almost success.
“I waited. I hoped that my proof might be final. Last week I achieved what I believed practically conclusive proof. To-night my dream may come true. If it does, neither you nor any human being need ever grow old again.”
* * *
FOR A LONG TIME Norgard did not move. When at last he spoke, his voice was fumbling and disconnected, like a man suddenly aroused from sleep.
“You’ve — solved it — you’ve made old blood young—”
The Master nodded.
“In a moment I will show you a rat whose blood I have treated and returned to its body. That rat should have died of old age. By every check it is now a young animal.”
“Then I — I won’t have to be sealed in a living death in one of those boxes?”
“No. If we succeed to-night, the tragedy of those boxes will pass from the Earth. And — thank Heaven — the office of the Master will pass with it.” His words were suddenly rapid, passionate. “Do you know what it means to go on living when everything you value dies? To know that every human being to whom you become attached will wither and die, while you remain ageless?”
He turned abruptly and stood staring at the young man in the cabinet, bathed in the glowing haze.
“But,” muttered Norgard, “how was it done? What data have we overlooked?”
“None. You did as well as ordinary men could in brief lifetimes. But death cut you short. It stopped your researches just as they were beginning to bear a little fruit. You could at most be completely familiar with only a few of the countless divisions of science. Your thoughts never got out of their familiar circles, because you lacked the perspective of time. What, for instance, do you believe is the relationship between basal metabolism and radioactivity?”
“I don’t see any,” Norgard declared. “It’s like trying to find a relationship between my cigarette and cosmic rays.”
“And yet,” the Master said dryly, “the relationship between cosmic rays and cigarettes cost thousands of lives in the year 3100.”
“What do you mean?”
“In that year increased intensity of cosmic rays caused mutations in tobacco plants. One of the products of these mutations was a hybrid which, although it looked and smoked like ordinary tobacco, secreted a vegetable alkaloid which caused a great increase of death from certain types of heart disease. Yon never heard of it apparently. But that is only natural. It concerns horticultural and medical history, both of which are outside of your field of specialization.”
“I see,” Norgard said slowly. “I got only part of the picture.”
“Exactly. The focal length of your mental lens is too short. The focal length of mine is a thousand years. From that distance the whole thing begins to fit together. It took data from all of science for me to discover that old blood does not need to be changed chemically — but recharged subatomically.”
“But the chemical composition does change with age.”
“Of course. But that is the effect, not the cause. Recharge the life atoms that are the basis of blood and the chemical unbalance will readjust itself.”
“You’ve done that?”
“Yes,” the Master replied. “But” — he opened a small door and beckoned Norgard to follow — “it took this to do it.”
THE ROOM was jammed with apparatus from a hundred different sciences. Only a few of the hundreds of instruments could Norgard even name. He stood staring, bewildered.
“You see,” the Master said slowly, “how hopeless it is for you — or any ordinary man — to understand. The result of a thousand years or science, in countless apparently unrelated fields, is in this room.”
He stepped quickly among the crowded apparatus, and brought out a small covered cage. “And this,” he said quietly. “is the proof that with sufficient perspective, science can even conquer old age and natural death.”
Carefully placing the cage on a table, he removed the cover. The pale glow of the indirect light softly illuminated the interior.
The pur of the dynamos far beneath them seemed suddenly loud. The room with its weird collection of apparatus was filled with a mocking presence. The long rows of tubes, gauges, transformers, and calculators leered at the two men. The great god of the machine was there laughing from among his hundreds of creations—
For in the little cage the rat lay bloated and motionless.
“It can’t be — it can’t be —”
The Master’s voice was choked and broken. In that instant the poise of a thousand years slipped from him. In place of the Master, the supreme director of science, there was a tired old man facing the wreckage of the work of fifty lifetimes.
Norgard recovered first. He made an effort to shake off the feeling of hopelessness, but his words were hollow, “Maybe there’s some mistake. Could it have died from some other cause? You know that it lived a week after the operation, and that it became young.”
The Master’s body drooped with aching weariness. His voice was under control again, but it was flat and toneless.
“No. They always died that way — that same bloated, congested appearance. Besides — it couldn’t have died from any other cause. It had no physical defect. I examined it before the operation. Its diet has been regulated. Even the atmosphere in the cage is sterilized.”
The Master cut him short.
“There isn’t any other possible answer. I recharged the life potential of the blood, but it wasn’t permanent. The change was only superficial.”
“But if you are that close, surely you will soon succeed.”
The Master did not answer. He led the way back into the other room. All the vitality seemed to have been sucked out of his body. At last he said: “I’ve thought that, too — perhaps a hundred times. Always it was almost. This time I was certain. I had done every thing I could.”
Slowly Norgard’s face became set and expressionless. His big shoulders tensed. The fire of enthusiasm flickered out of his eyes. When he spoke, it was again as if he were reciting his part in some ritual.
“I am ready, Master.”
The Master did not look up. He was not thinking of Norgard, nor of the operation. His mind was still concentrated on the rat which lay dead in the other room. How much longer could it go on? Another thirty years? Another century? Could he, after all, have been on the wrong track?
But that wasn’t possible. There was already too much proof. No, there must have been some hitch somewhere, some miscalculation. After all, a week was quite a considerable part of a rat’s lifetime. If only he could experiment on men—
* * *
SLOWLY a decision was taking form in his mind. There was one way to settle the matter — only one. Perhaps Norgard had been right about the rat dying from some other cause.
And suddenly the loneliness could no longer be controlled. The experiment did not matter, nothing mattered but the chance for escape from the isolation of deathlessness. Even if he died in bloated agony like the rat, it would be better than facing another thirty years of immortality.
Abruptly he looked up. “No, Norgard,” he said softly. “You are not going to fill that last cabinet. Either that horror is over — or the Master is over.”
“You mean you’re going to try the experiment anyway?”
“Exactly. It failed on a rat. It may succeed on a man. I will make a few slight changes in the technique. Then I will make the experiment.”
Norgard smiled softly.
“Very well. But whose blood will you place in my body—” He glanced toward the row of cabinets. “I suppose you can use theirs.”
The Master shook his head.
“No, we will experiment on my body — not yours. You will remove my blood, recharge it, and return it to my body.”
Norgard sprang forward.
“You can’t! Don’t you see! If the experiment fails you will die. Where will the world be then?”
“You forget that you are speaking to the Master.”
Norgard’s voice was hard.
“And you forget that there is one thing which the Master cannot do — take his own life.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” The Master’s voice was charged with a stinging bitterness! “That fact has been with me day and night for a thousand years. My life has been guarded as nothing else on this planet. And the world has come to think of me as a part of its machinery. They forget that I am a man.”
“You are not a man. You are — the Master. And — you have no right to do it, Master.”
“It’s my life, Norgard. You can’t get around that fact. Even the law of this country allows a man to do with his life as he sees fit. That law is older than the Master. It is as old as life itself.”
“But it isn’t your life. It is the life of those thirty. And the law forbids murder — you would be killing civilization.”
“I am sorry, Norgard, but I’m past caring. It may be that man can never beat the machine. It may be that he will find some new solution if the Master is removed. I simply know that I refuse to face another thirty years in a world that dies about me.
“I do not expect you to understand. The experience of being immortal in a mortal world is something which I hope no human brain will ever have again.” He paused. With an effort, he brought his voice under control. “We will now proceed with the experiment.”
* * *
NORGARD’S voice was pleading. “Please, Master. Remember it is not your life.”
The Master did not seem to have heard him. He turned and started into the smaller laboratory. At the door he stopped. His voice was cold, precise.
“Norgard, I will now explain to you my method of rejuvenating blood. I will then seal myself in one of these caskets. You will remove my blood, rejuvenate it, and return it to my body. The details—”
Norgard sprang forward. His big hands grasped the Master’s shoulders, the fingers digging into the flesh.
“No — I tell you — no!”
The Master’s voice was still toneless. “If you persist in this attitude, I will have you sent to the prison camp on the Moon and have the committee appoint another donor.”
“Master, you will not perform the experiment.”
The Master jerked loose from Norgard’s grip and turned to a small television set. He snapped a lever. Hubbard’s face showed on the screen. The Master spoke quietly.
“Call the committee of scientists and the city authorities. Tell them—”
The Master’s voice stopped abruptly. His body slumped against the wall and slithered to the floor.
Norgard stood above him, still holding the heavy insulator he had picked up from the bench. Slowly he knelt beside the inert form of the one man who could guard men from the machine. A swift examination made sure that the blow from the insulator had not harmed the Master, beyond a possible slight concussion.
Having finished his examination, he bound and gagged the unconscious man. Then he seated himself at the central table and stared at the long row of cabinets.
The buzzer of the television set sounded sharply. Norgard got up and crossed to the screen. Hubbard’s frantic face flashed into view in swerling light.
“You called, Master. What am I to tell the committee—”
Norgard cut him off. Muffling his voice with the back of his hand, he spoke without snapping on his end of television set.
“Sorry, Hubbard. It was a mistake. I thought the central power plant was weakening — couldn’t get enough power. I found where the loss was. I’ll call again if I need you.”
Hubbard’s face stared uncertainly for moment. Finally he said obediently, “Yes, Master.”
The screen went dark.
Norgard turned away and went into the smaller laboratory. He stood a long time looking at the bloated body of the rat within its little cage. Then he returned to the outer room.
He drew back the curtains from all the cabinets and studied the features of the young men within their iridescent limbs. At last he sat down at the table and smoked another cigarette.
The big chronometer on the wall sliced off the seconds. The dynamos purred steadily.
Barrett Norgard finished his cigarette and stood up.
SLOWLY the blackness in the Master’s brain became gray. Gradually the grayness changed to the light of full consciousness. The Master glanced about, moved. His mind was searching for the piece of the jigsaw puzzle of thought which would make the experiences of the last few minutes whole.
His head ached dully, but he scarcely noticed it. Something of far greater importance was surging within him. He looked at his worn, wrinkled hands. Already the flesh was filling out, becoming firm and young. He felt the pound of new vitality throbbing in his body.
It was not a new sensation. He had felt it many times before — once every thirty years.
Only this time there was some vague difference — that one missing piece of thought.
Suddenly it flashed back — his conversation with Norgard — his turning on the television set — then blackness.
The Master thrust open the glass door of his cabinet. A premonition of disaster screamed through his brain. With the spring of muscles returning to youth and vitality, he stepped to the end cabinet and tore back the curtain.
Within swirled the luminous mist, scintillating with a dazzling kaleidoscope of color. But the Master did not see the mist. He did not hear the buzz of the television set.
He saw only the face of Barrett Norgard. Straight and powerful the young man stood there, a quiet smile frozen on his motionless features.
The Master’s door of escape from deathlessness was shut now. Irony crushed in on him. Barrett Norgard wanted life. And he had given it up. The Master wanted death — and he had eternal life.
Backwards — that was it. The whole world was backwards. The human race created machines, and then the machines made slaves of their builders. In a universe that was timeless, man strutted about for brief specks of time, followed forever by the inexorable shadow of minutes, and days, and years. And in that time span between blabbering babyhood and disintegration he vacillated between a bestial love of strife and a stupid idealism. Like the foolish idealism of the young man in the cabinet.
It was a dull, hopeless game; a game that ought to end. Well, let it. He couldn’t be expected to keep it going singlehanded through eternity.
His mind swept down the vista of the next three decades. His friends would die. The men and women with whom he had laughed the day before would seem old to-morrow. He glanced once more at his hands. Already years were gone from them. In a week they would be the hands of a man of twenty-five, as young and powerful as those of Norgard.
But his mind wouldn’t grow young. You couldn’t turn back the clock of consciousness. His brain was still old, a thousand years old — and very tired.
There was a way to stop this insane mockery. Swiftly a decision was taking shape in his mind.
He had but to step back into that empty cabinet, connect the tubes to his arm, cut the connections, and throw the switch. His blood would be pumped from his body and form a futile little puddle on the floor. The swirling mist of oblivion would close around him, solving all problems. His body would fill the last empty cabinet.
Swiftly, he turned to the buzzing television set. His voice was brief, crisp.
“Stop bothering me. I’ll call you when I need you.”
* * *
BUT HE would never call. Eventually they would break into the laboratory. But that wouldn’t do any good. The maze of apparatus would be meaningless to the technicians, each chained to his own little field of science.
They couldn’t do anything. They could just stare at his face in the gleaming mist. He would be smiling, as Norgard was smiling — only for a different reason.
For a few minutes he busied himself adjusting the pump and disconnecting the hoses. On a sudden impulse he went into the smaller laboratory and stood looking at the dead rat.
The little room seemed full of his hope and failure during the millennium he had struggled there. Struggled to create a super science — that had achieved the magnificent result of killing a rat.
It wasn’t any use. He had tried everything — everything. All the accumulated science of a thousand years had gone into that last experiment. Perhaps, after all, there were some things that man’s science could never solve.
The collapse of his hope drained his faith in the experiment. He saw now that the death of the rat had been conclusive. If he tried it on himself, he would only die in bloated torture, instead of slipping instantly into oblivion with the click of a switch.
He turned quickly and strode into the other room. It was a fitting thing he was about to do — much better than merely destroying himself. Let the scientists try to figure out what it was all about. Let them try to understand what had gone wrong — and why he should lock himself in an iridescent vapor and why he should smile.
As he passed his desk, a wisp of white paper caught his eye. He paused, then went on. He was no longer interested in any information a slip of paper might be able to convey. He was weary of reports, and data, and statistics — of the paraphernalia of bungling human science.
But his mind wouldn’t let go of the piece of paper. He remembered that his desk had been cleared when he had been talking to Norgard. Curiosity pulled him back. He picked up the paper. The brief words stared up at him. It took him a moment to force his mind to meet them halfway.
You said my lens was short focus. Don’t forget that yours is, too. A thousand years is an instant in the destiny of man. The drinks will be on me when you get me out of this damned box. Yours for fewer dead rats.
The Master of the science of the world stood motionless in the center of the great laboratory. His strong young hands crumpled the bit of paper.
Each word of the scrawled sentences seared itself into the depths of his brain. Over and over again his mind repeated: a thousand years — still too short focus.
Slowly he crossed the room and faced the man smiling from his living death. The Master’s hands went out and pawed the glass. His fingers left long, sweaty marks. His lips pressed against the glass worked, but no words came.
BEYOND the glass were the calm, steady eyes of Barrett Norgard. All the force of life seemed concentrated in those eyes, the same force that had relentlessly driven life onward, up from primordial swamps, up through millions of years of darkness, onward to the conquest of Earth.
There was one more step. A little matter of finding why a rat had suddenly died—
Suddenly the Master jerked about. There was the tiny click of the television switch.
The Master’s voice rang through the room, big and powerful.
“Hubbard, call the committee of scientists. Get a list of the most promising men in the fields of bio-chemistry radioactivity, and force fields. Arrange for the building of new laboratories. Get moving. We’ve got things to do.”
He swung about, and went back to the last cabinet. His tight-lipped smile matched that of the man in the swirling mist. The Master spoke softly: “I’ll stand the drinks.”
Outside the dawn was breaking. The day’s heavy power drain was beginning. The pur of the dynamos below the building rose. The building trembled with a surge of power. The giant generators screamed defiance at the universe.