The Jovian Jest by Lilith Lorraine
There came to our pigmy planet a radiant wanderer with a
message—and a jest—from the vasty universe.
onsternation reigned in Elsnore village when the Nameless Thing was
discovered in Farmer Burns' corn-patch. When the rumor began to gain
credence that it was some sort of meteor from inter-stellar space,
reporters, scientists and college professors flocked to the scene,
desirous of prying off particles for analysis. But they soon
discovered that the Thing was no ordinary meteor, for it glowed at
night with a peculiar luminescence. They also observed that it was
practically weightless, since it had embedded itself in the soft sand
scarcely more than a few inches.
By the time the first group of newspapermen and scientists had reached
the farm, another phenomenon was plainly observable. The Thing was
Farmer Burns, with an eye to profit, had already built a picket fence
around his starry visitor and was charging admission. He also flatly
refused to permit the chipping off of specimens or even the touching
of the object. His attitude was severely criticized, but he stubbornly
clung to the theory that possession is nine points in law.
t was Professor Ralston of Princewell who, on the third day after the
fall of the meteor, remarked upon its growth. His colleagues crowded
around him as he pointed out this peculiarity, and soon they
discovered another factor—pulsation!
Larger than a small balloon, and gradually, almost imperceptibly
expanding, with its viscid transparency shot through with opalescent
lights, the Thing lay there in the deepening twilight and palpably
shivered. As darkness descended, a sort of hellish radiance began to
ooze from it. I say hellish, because there is no other word to
describe that spectral, sulphurous emanation.
As the hangers-on around the pickets shudderingly shrank away from the
weird light that was streaming out to them and tinting their faces
with a ghastly, greenish pallor, Farmer Burns' small boy, moved by
some imp of perversity, did a characteristically childish thing. He
picked up a good-sized stone and flung it straight at the nameless
nstead of veering off and falling to the ground as from an impact
with metal, the stone sank right through the surface of the Thing as
into a pool of protoplastic slime. When it reached the central core of
the object, a more abundant life suddenly leaped and pulsed from
center to circumference. Visible waves of sentient color circled round
the solid stone. Stabbing swords of light leaped forth from them,
piercing the stone, crumbling it, absorbing it. When it was gone, only
a red spot, like a bloodshot eye, throbbed eerily where it had been.
Before the now thoroughly mystified crowd had time to remark upon this
inexplicable disintegration, a more horrible manifestation occurred.
The Thing, as though thoroughly awakened and vitalized by its unusual
fare, was putting forth a tentacle. Right from the top of the
shivering globe it pushed, sluggishly weaving and prescient of doom.
Wavering, it hung for a moment, turning, twisting, groping. Finally it
shot straight outward swift as a rattler's strike!
Before the closely packed crowd could give room for escape, it had
circled the neck of the nearest bystander, Bill Jones, a cattleman,
and jerked him, writhing and screaming, into the reddish core.
Stupefied with soul-chilling terror, with their mass-consciousness
practically annihilated before a deed with which their minds could
make no association, the crowd could only gasp in sobbing unison and
await the outcome.
he absorption of the stone had taught them what to expect, and for a
moment it seemed that their worst anticipations were to be realised. The
sluggish currents circled through the Thing, swirling the victim's body to
the center. The giant tentacle drew back into the globe and became itself
a current. The concentric circles merged—tightened—became one gleaming
cord that encircled the helpless prey. From the inner circumference of
this cord shot forth, not the swords of light that had powdered the stone
to atoms, but myriads of radiant tentacles that gripped and cupped the
body in a thousand places.
Suddenly the tentacles withdrew themselves, all save the ones that
grasped the head. These seemed to tighten their pressure—to swell and
pulse with a grayish substance that was flowing from the cups into the
cord and from the cord into the body of the mass. Yes, it was a
grayish something, a smokelike Essence that was being drawn from the
cranial cavity. Bill Jones was no longer screaming and gibbering, but
was stiff with the rigidity of stone. Notwithstanding, there was no
visible mark upon his body; his flesh seemed unharmed.
Swiftly came the awful climax. The waving tentacles withdrew
themselves, the body of Bill Jones lost its rigidity, a heaving motion
from the center of the Thing propelled its cargo to the surface—and
Bill Jones stepped out!
Yes, he stepped out and stood for a moment staring straight ahead,
staring at nothing, glassily. Every person in the shivering, paralysed
group knew instinctively that something unthinkable had happened to
him. Something had transpired, something hitherto possible only in the
abysmal spaces of the Other Side of Things. Finally he turned and
faced the nameless object, raising his arm stiffly, automatically, as
in a military salute. Then he turned and walked jerkily, mindlessly,
round and round the globe like a wooden soldier marching. Meanwhile
the Thing lay quiescent—gorged!
rofessor Ralston was the first to find his voice. In fact, Professor
Ralston was always finding his voice in the most unexpected places.
But this time it had caught a chill. It was trembling.
"Gentlemen," he began, looking down academically upon the motley crowd
as though doubting the aptitude of his salutation. "Fellow-citizens,"
he corrected, "the phenomenon we have just witnessed is, to the lay
mind, inexplicable. To me—and to my honorable colleagues (added as an
afterthought) it is quite clear. Quite clear, indeed. We have before
us a specimen, a perfect specimen, I might say, of a—of a—"
He stammered in the presence of the unnamable. His hesitancy caused
the rapt attention of the throng that was waiting breathlessly for an
explanation, to flicker back to the inexplicable. In the fraction of a
second that their gaze had been diverted from the Thing to the
professor, the object had shot forth another tentacle, gripping him
round the neck and choking off his sentence with a horrid rasp that
sounded like a death rattle.
Needless to say, the revolting process that had turned Bill Jones
from a human being into a mindless automaton was repeated with
Professor Ralston. It happened as before, too rapidly for
intervention, too suddenly for the minds of the onlookers to shake off
the paralysis of an unprecedented nightmare. But when the victim was
thrown to the surface, when he stepped out, drained of the grayish
smokelike essence, a tentacle still gripped his neck and another
rested directly on top of his head. This latter tentacle, instead of
absorbing from him, visibly poured into him what resembled a
threadlike stream of violet light.
acing the cowering audience with eyes staring glassily, still in the
grip of the unknowable, Professor Ralston did an unbelievable thing.
He resumed his lecture at the exact point of interruption! But he
spoke with the tonelessness of a machine, a machine that pulsed to the
will of a dictator, inhuman and inexorable!
"What you see before you," the Voice continued—the Voice that no
longer echoed the thoughts of the professor—"is what you would call
an amoeba, a giant amoeba. It is I—this amoeba, who am addressing
you—children of an alien universe. It is I, who through this captured
instrument of expression, whose queer language you can understand, am
explaining my presence on your planet. I pour my thoughts into this
specialised brain-box which I have previously drained of its meager
thought-content." (Here the "honorable colleagues" nudged each other
gleefully.) "I have so drained it for the purpose of analysis and that
the flow of my own ideas may pass from my mind to yours unimpeded by
any distortion that might otherwise be caused by their conflict with
the thoughts of this individual.
"First I absorbed the brain-content of this being whom you call Bill
Jones, but I found his mental instrument unavailable. It was
technically untrained in the use of your words that would best convey
my meaning. He possesses more of what you would call 'innate
intelligence,' but he has not perfected the mechanical brain through
whose operation this innate intelligence can be transmitted to others
and, applied for practical advantage.
ow this creature that I am using is, as you might say, full of sound
without meaning. His brain is a lumber-room in which he has hoarded a
conglomeration of clever and appropriate word-forms with which to
disguise the paucity of his ideas, with which to express nothing! Yet
the very abundance of the material in his storeroom furnishes a
discriminating mind with excellent tools for the transportation of its
ideas into other minds.
"Know, then, that I am not here by accident. I am a Space Wanderer, an
explorer from a super-universe whose evolution has proceeded without
variation along the line of your amoeba. Your evolution, as I perceive
from an analysis of the brain-content of your professor, began its
unfoldment in somewhat the same manner as our own. But in your smaller
system, less perfectly adjusted than our own to the cosmic mechanism,
a series of cataclysms occurred. In fact, your planetary system was
itself the result of a catastrophe, or of what might have been a
catastrophe, had the two great suns collided whose near approach
caused the wrenching off of your planets. From this colossal accident,
rare, indeed, in the annals of the stars, an endless chain of
accidents was born, a chain of which this specimen, this professor,
and the species that he represents, is one of the weakest links.
"Your infinite variety of species is directly due to the variety of
adaptations necessitated by this train of accidents. In the
super-universe from which I come, such derangements of the celestial
machinery simply do not happen. For this reason, our evolution has
unfolded harmoniously along one line of development, whereas yours
has branched out into diversified and grotesque expressions of the
Life-Principle. Your so-called highest manifestation of this
principle, namely, your own species, is characterized by a great
number of specialized organs. Through this very specialization of
functions, however, you have forfeited your individual immortality,
and it has come about that only your life-stream is immortal. The
primal cell is inherently immortal, but death follows in the wake of
e, the beings of this amoeba universe, are individually immortal. We
have no highly specialized organs to break down under the stress of
environment. When we want an organ, we create it. When it has served
its purpose, we withdraw it into ourselves. We reach out our tentacles
and draw to ourselves whatsoever we desire. Should a tentacle be
destroyed, we can put forth another.
"Our universe is beautiful beyond the dreams of your most inspired
poets. Whereas your landscapes, though lovely, are stationary,
unchangeable except through herculean efforts, ours are Protean,
eternally changing. With our own substance, we build our minarets of
light, piercing the aura of infinity. At the bidding of our wills we
create, preserve, destroy—only to build again more gloriously.
"We draw our sustenance from the primates, as do your plants, and we
constantly replace the electronic base of these primates with our own
emanations, in much the same manner as your nitrogenous plants
revitalize your soil.
"While we create and withdraw organs at will, we have nothing to
correspond to your five senses. We derive knowledge through one sense
only, or, shall I say, a super-sense? We see and hear and touch and
taste and smell and feel and know, not through any one organ, but
through our whole structure. The homogeneous force of our
omni-substance subjects the plural world to the processing of a
e can dissolve our bodies at will, retaining only the permanent atom
of our being, the seed of life dropped on the soil of our planet by
Infinite Intelligence. We can propel this indestructible seed on light
rays through the depths of space. We can visit the farthest universe
with the velocity of light, since light is our conveyance. In reaching
your little world, I have consumed a million years, for my world is a
million light-years distant: yet to my race a million years is as one
of your days.
"On arrival at any given destination, we can build our bodies from the
elements of the foreign planet. We attain our knowledge of conditions
on any given planet by absorbing the thought-content of the brains of
a few representative members of its dominant race. Every well-balanced
mind contains the experience of the race, the essence of the wisdom
that the race-soul has gained during its residence in matter. We make
this knowledge a part of our own thought-content, and thus the
Universe lies like an open book before us.
"At the end of a given experiment in thought absorption, we return the
borrowed mind-stuff to the brain of its possessor. We reward our
subject for his momentary discomfiture by pouring into his body our
splendid vitality. This lengthens his life expectancy immeasurably, by
literally burning from his system the germs of actual or incipient
ills that contaminate the blood-stream.
his, I believe, will conclude my explanation, an explanation to which
you, as a race in whom intelligence is beginning to dawn, are entitled.
But you have a long road to travel yet. Your thought-channels are
pitifully blocked and criss-crossed with nonsensical and inhibitory
complexes that stand in the way of true progress. But you will work this
out, for the Divine Spark that pulses through us of the Larger Universe,
pulses also through you. That spark, once lighted, can never be
extinguished, can never be swallowed up again in the primeval slime.
"There is nothing more that I can learn from you—nothing that I can
teach you at this stage of your evolution. I have but one message to
give you, one thought to leave with you—forge on! You are on the
path, the stars are over you, their light is flashing into your souls
the slogan of the Federated Suns beyond the frontiers of your little
warring worlds. Forge on!"
The Voice died out like the chiming of a great bell receding into
immeasurable distance. The supercilious tones of the professor had
yielded to the sweetness and the light of the Greater Mind whose
instrument he had momentarily become. It was charged at the last with
a golden resonance that seemed to echo down vast spaceless corridors
beyond the furthermost outposts of time.
s the Voice faded out into a sacramental silence, the strangely
assorted throng, moved by a common impulse, lowered their heads as
though in prayer. The great globe pulsed and shimmered throughout its
sentient depths like a sea of liquid jewels. Then the tentacle that
grasped the professor drew him back toward the scintillating nucleus.
Simultaneously another arm reached out and grasped Bill Jones, who,
during the strange lecture, had ceased his wooden soldier marching and
had stood stiffly at attention.
The bodies of both men within the nucleus were encircled once more by
the single current. From it again put forth the tentacles, cupping
their heads, but the smokelike essence flowed back to them this time,
and with it flowed a tiny threadlike stream of violet light. Then came
the heaving motion when the shimmering currents caught the two men and
tossed them forth unharmed but visibly dowered with the radiance of
more abundant life. Their faces were positively glowing and their eyes
were illuminated by a light that was surely not of earth.
Then, before the very eyes of the marveling people, the great globe
began to dwindle. The jeweled lights intensified, concentrated,
merged, until at last remained only a single spot no larger than a
pin-head, but whose radiance was, notwithstanding, searing,
excruciating. Then the spot leaped up—up into the heavens, whirling,
dipping and circling as in a gesture of farewell, and finally soaring
into invisibility with the blinding speed of light.
he whole wildly improbable occurrence might have been dismissed as a
queer case of mass delusion, for such cases are not unknown to
history, had it not been followed by a convincing aftermath.
The culmination of a series of startling coincidences, both ridiculous
and tragic, at last brought men face to face with an incontestable
fact: namely, that Bill Jones had emerged from his fiery baptism
endowed with the thought-expressing facilities of Professor Ralston,
while the professor was forced to struggle along with the meager
educational appliances of Bill Jones!
In this ironic manner the Space-Wanderer had left unquestionable proof
of his visit by rendering a tribute to "innate intelligence" and
playing a Jovian Jest upon an educated fool—a neat transposition.
A Columbus from a vaster, kindlier universe had paused for a moment to
learn the story of our pigmy system. He had brought us a message from
the outermost citadels of life and had flashed out again on his aeonic
voyage from everlasting unto everlasting.
FOR VACATION ADVENTURERS
Truth is stranger than fiction. Ask the Regular Army man who has
soldiered in the far-off corners of the earth, gone "over the top" in
action, and has experienced the thrill of service in the tropics or
Better yet, get an earful of real Astounding Stories yourself, at
first hand this summer, as one of the thirty thousand young men
between the ages of seventeen and twenty-four enjoying those thirty
glorious days and nights as a student-camper at one of Uncle Sam's
Citizens' Military Training Camps.
All of these Camps are pitched at Regular Army posts, and it is the
custom for grizzled old-timers who have followed the Flag for many
long years to drift down to "the boys" around campfire time each night
and regale the student campers with thrilling, real life yarns of
action and adventure in many strange and unusual circumstances.
It is not necessary for one to be a rich man's son in order to enjoy
the manifold benefits of their Camps. Uncle Sam pays all the necessary
bills including transportation, the best of food, bedding, laundry
service and medical treatment if needed. And there is no obligation
for future military service entailed by attendance at any of these
Nation-wide CMT camps. Their primary mission is the upbuilding of
American youth in health and good citizenship.
Detailed information, together with illustrated literature about the
Citizens' Military Training Camp, may be obtained by addressing the
CMTC Officer at the U.S. Army post nearest your home.