"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.
This is the second part of the serialisation of The Perfect Eugenic State by Dr. Halliday Sutherland. For an introduction that explains the context of the story, click here.
Once seated in the well-cushioned car gliding out of Hampstead, Smith swallowed a lump that was rising in his throat, and turned to the Commissioner sitting beside him. “I just wish to say, sir, that I’m very sorry indeed if I’ve been unhappy.”
“No need to apologise, my dear fellow; in any case it wasn’t your fault.”
“Thank you very much, sir.”
“Not at all. As you know, or ought to know, a unit is never responsible for anything, and there’s no need for you to blame yourself over this or anything else. If there’s any question of laxity the State alone is responsible. Possibly in the past our inspection has been less efficient than it might have been. At any rate, things are now being improved, as the state itself is threatened.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, sir,” remarked Smith more cheerfully. “I mean, I’m glad will be better inspected, but I’m sorry the State itself in danger.”
“That’s just it,” said the commissioner; “the State is in great danger. This is not known to the Units, and the information I give you is secret.”
“Thank you, sir, you may rely on my—”
“Of course I can. If there had been the slightest risk of your passing the news on, I wouldn’t have told you. The danger is from Ireland. That island remained Christian, and is still inhabited by madmen obsessed with a delusion, in itself a fable borrowed from pagan mythology. For a hundred years we’ve forbidden any communication with these people, but from secret sources we know what they’re doing. At present there’s a Unit in the island who calls himself King George XX. He and his people have now decided that it’s their duty to destroy this great State of which you and I are humble Units.”
“But surely it’s none of their business, sir,” asked Smith, a trifle eagerly.
“Of course it’s not their business, but they threaten a crusade, and that’s where you come in, Smith—or, rather, that’s where you go out.”
“I beg pardon, sir, but I’m afraid that I don’t quite follow your meaning, sir.”
“Well, my dear fellow, if these madmen make a war, don’t you see that it would be dangerous if we had within the state emotional Units who might sympathise with the enemy? Now you, Smith, are undoubtedly an emotional Unit.”
“I’d never sympathise with the enemy, sir.”
“Ah, one never knows, although it passes comprehension why anyone would sympathise with these madmen. If the Christians conquer, there will be a terrible upheaval and relapse. We’ll no longer be housed, clothed, and fed by the State. Our hours of work won’t be limited to four a day. Make no mistake about that. You wouldn’t be told what you must do, but merely what you must not do. A most pernicious philosophy. And, worse than that, they’d restore tears and laughter to the world. Do you know, Smith, I often think that whenever a Unit feels inclined to belittle the work of our excellent inspectorate, that he should quietly recollect how fortunate we really are and how very different things might be. We might have been a priest written people, harried and hounded by Jesuits.”
“The state forbid,” said Smith, piously raising his hat. “I swear it.”
“No need to swear,” corrected the Commissioner gently. “In any case there’s nothing to swear by, and no fear of treason on your part. But, apart from these polemics, you’re not really happy, Smith.”
“Indeed I am, sir, very happy. I’m well inspected, and I’ve got my ferrets. They’re very fond of me, sir.”
“Nonsense, my friend. In the first place they are not your ferrets, because they belong to the State, and secondly, although they enjoy their food, I am quite sure that they are not so lacking in intelligence as to harbour any emotion towards the Unit whose duty it was to look after them. No, no, Smith, your face betrays you. You are not happy. Too much emotion. And your children prove it. The state permitted you to have two children. Well? Have you bred Samurai? I think not. The fact is you’re degenerate, and we cannot encourage this to go on. Your own common sense must tell you that we can’t afford to keep you; The Happier Homes idea has been given up. Too expensive and sentimental—almost Christian, in fact. Efficiency, H/99, efficiency, and all for the State. That’s the motto of every loyal Unit.”
“Where are we going sir?” asked Smith, white in the face.
“To the Lethal Institute, my friend.”
“No, no, I’m not,” muttered Smith. “What Act of Parliament lets you do this? I have a right to know that. I’m a free Unit.”
“The state has gone into your case. The Inspectors and the Secret Service have worked conscientiously over you. We have all the documents. Everything is in perfect order.”
Smith glanced wildly around the car until his gaze was fixed on a long aluminium box placed across the front seats. “What’s that thing?” he whispered hoarsely.
“Steady, my friend, you really must pull yourself together. That is… ahem… well… shall we say?… the hearse portion. Quite new, a labour-saving device.”
“So I’m driving with my own coffin?”
“Well, in a sense I suppose you are, if you wish to put it that way. Personally, I dislike the word ‘coffin,’ on account of its ancient associations, and I usually refer to the thing as the ‘container.’”
“Driving like a criminal to Tyburn!”
“Now, there you are quite wrong,” replied the Commissioner gently. “There is no parallel. In the old days to which you refer the criminal was chained. There are no criminals now. You’re not a criminal and you’re not in chains. You’re a free Unit who is about to submit the requirements the State.”
“That’s a lie,” sobbed Smith. “The criminal was chained because he had a chance of escape, one in a million though it was. I’ve no chance at all. That’s why you don’t chain me. Even the Jesuits wouldn’t treat a man like this!”
“Come, come, H/99, no temper, if you please. Be reasonable. Your own common sense must tell you that you’re a greater danger than many criminals. But why all this fuss? There’s nothing to hurt you. We have the highest medical opinion that it is quite painless. I can assure you as to that. And what is the whole affair, after all? A mere rearrangement of the molecules…. Ah, these molecules, Smith — if we could only get down to them we should move much more quickly…. That’s all there is to it. And if you fear anything else, this in itself is further proof that you’re not fit to live. Now, as an old hand at the business, my advice to you, Smith, is this — don’t worry. No one is going to hurt you. In a few minutes we shall be at the Institute; afterwards I shall take you on to the crematorium, and within an hour at your most at within an hour at most of your molecules would be floating in the blue empyrean — back with the nitrogen from whence they came. A beautiful thought, my friend…. What! The man has fainted…. I must speak that Inspector. We ought to have taken this Unit away twenty years ago…. Perhaps the whole family would be better away. I really must press the Board for a decision.” Suddenly Smith groaned. “Ah, that’s right,” said the Commissioner. “Coming to, I see. You’ll soon be all right.”
“I don’t want to be all right,” moaned Smith.
“Nonsense, man. Nothing will happen to you without your full consent. Wait until you have seen the Sympathisers.”
The car stopped at the door of the Institute. The Commissioner got out, and Smith followed. As they went up the steps their bodies broke an invisible ray, and two great doors slid open, revealing a gilded hall, lit by fairy lights, and in the centre a splashing fountain in which the falling water was coloured like a rainbow. Behind the open doors stood a flunkey dressed in cloth of gold and silver. He bowed low to Smith and said, “Welcome.”
“In you go,” said the Commissioner. “I’ll see you later.”
As in a dream, Smith entered, and the great doors closed behind him with a faint click. The flunkey was smiling, and Smith, who had never before seen anyone except in rational dress, asked nervously, “Are you the Sympathiser, sir?”
“No, no, sir,” said the flunkey, “I’m only the doorkeeper. The Sympathisers are all in the salon, and you may choose any of the lot, male or female. This way, sir,” and he led Smith to the curtained entrance of the salon, which opened out of the hall on the right as you entered. Drawing aside the curtain so that Smith might enter, he announced at the top of his voice: “My lords, ladies, and gentlemen, pray silence for the entry of your guest, Mr. Smith, of Hampstead.”
As he entered, all the Sympathisers…
Come back tomorrow for the next exciting episode of The Perfect Eugenic State.
Illustration: Eric Fraser.