"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 third 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.
As he entered, all the Sympathisers gave him a friendly smile, and Smith gasped for breath. He would have fainted again had not a middle-aged man, with large blue eyes that through gold rimmed spectacles, sprang forward and led him to an easy chair. “Sit down, my friend. I know it must seem rather strange to you. Now have a good look round, take your time, and choose whom you will.” His new friend was dressed in a well-cut blue lounge suit. He was a trifle stout, and had the kindliest, jolliest face that Smith had ever seen. “Sympathiser Kind is my name, if you should decide eventually to trust yourself to me, but take your time. Each to his taste,” and, with another smile, he returned to the centre of the room.
Smith leant back in the well-upholstered chair, and stared at the Sympathisers in amazement. Never before had he sat in such a comfortable chair, and never before had he seen men and women dressed and undressed in such a variety of fashions. What these fashions were Smith, for the most part, did not know, and yet each had its own appeal. Among the men, had he known, he could have recognised a footballer, a cricketer, a boxer, a golfer in plus fours, and naval officer, a guardsman, a priest, and a gigolo. One man was naked, as also was one woman, a very beautiful woman with long golden hair hanging down to her waist. Another woman was half-undressed, and at the sight of these last two Smith blushed, for he was wholly degenerate, and did not understand sex appeal in its scientific aspects. Other women he might have recognised were the ballet dancer, the principal boy and girl, the belle of the ball, the nurse, the tennis girl, and a nun. Each in turn smiled at Smith, but being of a retiring disposition, he just sat and stared, until by a lull in their conversation he realised that they were beginning to be bored by his presence.
So he beckoned to Sympathiser Kind, who had once joined him with the remark: “You have chosen well my friend.” The others clapped their hands in a well-bred manner and said: “See you later, Mr. Smith.”
Sympathiser Kind led him across the gaily lighted hall — “Can’t very well have a heart-to-heart chat in there, old man,” and whenever he spoke he smiled. Across the hall, they entered another room through a door which closed behind them with a click. In the centre of the room was a circular steel table and two hygienic chairs of glass and chromium, one on either side of the table. The walls were white, devoid of pictures, and against one wall were two steel cupboards painted white. It was a square room measuring twenty feet, and in the centre of the room was the gauze of a loudspeaker.
“Makes you feel quite at home,” his new friend said with a smile, as he beckoned Smith to take the chair furthest from the door.
“Yes, sir,” said Smith, with a gulp in his throat.
“Now, said the Sympathiser, “just you tell me all about it, and will see what can be done.”
At that Smith poured out his troubles. The Sympathiser listened attentively, only occasionally asking a question to clear up some point about which he was not quite certain. When Smith’ s story came to an end, the Sympathiser looked grave, and Smith’s heart sank.
“This looks very serious,” said the Sympathiser thoughtfully, and then added, “I think the Commissioner has made a most serious error in judgement.”
“Oh, thank you; thank you, sir. Then you will help me to escape?”
“Of course I’ll help you, but we must consider ways and means. Now let me think for a minute or two.
The Sympathiser bent across the table and covered his face with his hands for a couple of minutes before he spoke. “Do you realise, Smith, that to save you I must tell you everything about this place?”
“Yes, sir,” said Smith eagerly.
“Well, now, do you know that no male or female Unit who enters the front door of this Institute ever leaves by the way they entered?”
“Yes, sir,” said Smith eagerly.
“Good. They all leave by the back doors — dead. Except one or two, of whom you’ll be one, who reach the back door at the end of the Lethal Tunnel — alive. Naturally, you want to know how the one or two escape?”
“Well, I’ll tell you,” and the Sympathiser pulled open a steel draw in the table in front of his chair, from which he produced a gas-mask. This he patted gently. “That’s my own special gas-mask. Now, when I don’t want to Unit to escape I put it on, and tell the Unit that I’m going to give him or her — because, curiously enough, some female Units select me — ha, ha! — a duplicate mask. Then I openthat steel cupboard nearest to you and take out a mask the very duplicate of my own. Of course it’s a dud, and when we reach the gas it doesn’t work. Understand?”
“Yes, sir,” said Smith dubiously, because the problem was complicated.
“Don’t pretend Smith! You still have doubts. Ha, ha! Well any mistrust may be set at rest, because I am going to give you my own special gas-mask.” And with that the Sympathiser placed his gas mask by Smith’s right hand on the table.
“Thank you, sir, but — are you not coming down the — the — Tunnel with me?”
“Of course I am, but I’m going to have a gas mask like you. Only I don’t take my mask from the first cupboard — no fear — but from the second, where the masks are as genuine as the one I gave you.” The Sympathiser opened the cupboard nearest the door, remove a mask, and placed it on the table near his chair. “Now I must tell you about the tunnel, and what to expect at the other——”
A gong sounded, and from the loudspeaker in the ceiling came the words, “Sympathiser Kind, if he can spare a moment, is urgently needed in Antechamber Five.”
The Sympathiser frowned — the first frown Smith had seen on his face. “Excuse me a minute, Friend Smith, I won’t be long. I wonder what it is?” He gave a low whistle, the door opened, and closed behind him.
Left alone in the soundproof room, Smith smiled. What a really decent fellow the Sympathiser was! To give his own gas-mask to a total stranger and to choose a new one for himself. No, he had better change the masks. At the Pandemonium Smith had learned all about the dangers of respiratory infections. Perhaps Sympathiser kind liked his mask so much that he never troubled to have it sterilised. Germs innocuous to Kind might not be so innocuous to Smith. That much of bacteriology had learned at the Pandemonium. He changed the masks, because it would never do to tell Sympathiser Kind of his views about sterilising gas masks.
Suddenly the door opened. Sympathiser Kind, looking little flushed, entered, glanced anxiously at the table, smiled, and said: “Well, here we are again. You’ll wonder why I was called away? In the salon did you notice Sympathiser Eve — the female in the altogether, I mean without any clothes?”
“Yes, sir,” said Smith eagerly.
“Well, I was just called to Antechamber Five to explain to a Unit that his attempted love-making was a little premature, although at the end of the Tunnel he may do what he likes with Sympathiser Eve. But — let me see — I was telling you about the Tunnel. Yet why waste time! On with our masks. The sooner we’re in, the sooner we’re out. “Ask me any questions on the way, Friend Smith.”
“Yes, sir,” said Smith, as each adjusted his gas-mask, “but where’s the Tunnel?”
“There,” answered the Sympathiser, and, as he pressed a button, the whole of the back steel wall of the room rose, revealing a square tunnel with beautiful scenery painted on either wall and a skyscape on the roof, all brilliantly lit by artificial daylight. On the floor of the square Tunnel was a low-placed trolley, running, as the Sympathiser explained, not on wheels but on long interrupted plates of magnetic steel. Two large hygienic chairs were screwed to the trolley.
“Take your pew, Smith; they’re both the same,” and so Smith sat in one and Sympathiser Kind in the other.
“Just put your arms along the arms of the chair, and legs against the front legs, and I’ll do the same.”
Smith followed the Sympathiser’s instructions.
“Now,” said the Sympathiser, “I’m going to press a button with my left foot.” Smith watched, and in a moment he was pinioned to the chair by semicircular steel clamps round his arms and legs.
“Don’t be a fool!” shouted the Sympathiser. “Can’t you see I’m a clamped as much as you?”
Smith looked, and saw his Sympathiser was also clamped by steel bands.
“I’m very sorry, sir.”
“That’s all right. Now start her off. Under your right foot you’ll feel a knob — unless you’ve got an extra thick sole on your boot, which no ordinary Unit is supposed to have.”
“No, sir, I haven’t, and I can feel the knob.”
“Then press it.”
“What happens then, sir?”
“The steel wall is lowered behind us, and off we go.”
“No, Sir, I don’t like to do it.”
“Then I must then I must push the control myself, but I’m bound to say, Smith, you don’t seem to have much confidence in your Sympathiser.”
Smith felt the knob beneath his right foot sink. The steel wall was slowly lowered behind them, comma and the trolley was moving along the Tunnel at the rate of three miles an hour.
“I’m sorry I mistrusted you, Sir.”
“That’s all right, Smith. Perhaps I was a bit rattled by the scene in antechamber Antechamber Five. Never mind about that. Look at the scenery you’re seeing.”
Smith looked on the painted panorama to left and right.
“Oh, Kind, I have never seen anything so beautiful as that.”
“Dare say you haven’t. I’ve never seen the reality, nor am I likely to see it.”
“What is it?”
“It’s Loch Awe, where Our Totality lives.”
“What’s Our Totality, Sympathiser Kind?”
“No, of course, you’ve never heard of Our Totality. Mind you, I’ve never seen him, but I know what he is. How shall I put it to a Unit like you? You know your Commissioner? Yes. Well, he’s got more brains than you or me.”
“Of course, Sympathiser.”
“Well, Our Totality has exactly one thousand times more brains than any Commissioner. That’s why he and he alone lives there, on the island we’re passing now. Now do you understand?”
“No, not quite, Sympathiser.”
“Well, all I can say is that you really make me tired. Anyway, I’m a bit rattled about what happened in Antechamber Five, and I’ll put it all on you.”
“Please don’t, Sympathiser. Whatever happened had nothing to do with me, and you promised to tell me what happens when we both arrive at the end of the Tunnel.”
“What are you afraid of?”
“That your cross, Sympathiser, and that the Commissioner will do when he sees me alive at the end of the Tunnel.”
“The Commissioner will never see you alive at the end of the tunnel — don’t shriek, you fool — it’s not the time for shrieking. At the end of the Tunnel are only four deaf-mutes ready to put you into your container.”
“The container,” shouted Smith, “you promised to tell me about the container!”
“So I did and I will, if only if you’ll only keep calm. Should have told you before, but the disgraceful scene in Antechamber Five rather ruffled me. Perhaps you’ll have a little sympathy for me when I tell you that Sympathiser Eve is my comrade.”
“Oh, yes, I have, Sir, but about the container?”
“What about it? No one’s going to put you in a container. Didn’t I give you my own gas-mask? Of course I did. Well — oh, damn Eve dash — when our trolley hits the buffers in the open air at the other end, the clamps are automatic released, and you and I will walk away. Where do we walk? You’ve as many questions to ask as a child, and have had plenty of experience of them. Why, you silly, we just walk out through the little steel gate in the fifty foot wall on our left. It opens from the inside only. There’s no handle on the outside. Now you satisfied?”
“What about the deaf-mutes, sir? Won’t they be a little surprised?”
“They’ll just think you’re a new Sympathiser having a trial trip with me.”
“But what about the Commissioner?”
“Oh, damn the Commissioner! What about him?”
“Be careful, Sympathiser!”
“That’s alright. In the Tunnel no one can overhear what we’re saying. It’s the only place where they can’t — but what about the Commissioner?”
“Well, won’t he be angry when he finds I’m — I’m — still here?”
“Look here, Smith, you make me really tired with your chatter. Plaguing the man who’s saving your life. I’ll tell the Commissioner you are a super-man who held his breath for seven minutes in the gaseous zones and escaped. Now are you happy?”
“Yes, sir, but where am I going after we all after we get out through the little steel gate in the high wall?”
“Hell, you’re coming to live with me and Sympathiser Eve, because we both like you. Now are you content?”
“Most content, sir.”
“I thought you would be. Then perhaps you’ll let me question you.”
“With pleasure, sir.”
“What would you say should happen to a Unit who chose Sympathiser Eve, and wanted to go down the tunnel with her in that state? Do you think he should die?”
“Indeed I do, sir.”
“Smith, I begin to like you. You’re a comrade of your own. You know how the very idea affects one?”
“Ye-es, sir, but of course they’re both clamped in their chairs, and his deaf mutes at the other end.”
“Good thing for you, Smith, that I’m clamped, or I bash your face for that insult.”
“I didn’t mean —”
“Shut up! I’ll tell you why Sympathisers are clamped. Sometimes the victim say things that rile their Sympathisers. Once, only the victims were clamped.”
“Oh dear, Oh dear!”
“Listen, you fool. Did you see the priest in the Salon? Don’t deny that you know what he was supposed to be. Yes, Smith, there are Units so degraded as to believe in God, and who choose Father Peace their Sympathiser. God help them. In the Tunnel they find he’s a fake, and when they do these godly Units say things that make him struggle in his clamps. That’s why every Sympathiser is now clamped. His predecessor, Father Help, lost his life through a lack of clamps. A Unit in the Tunnel insulted him. Father Help struck the Unit in the face and cut his knuckles on the victim’s gas mask. Then when the two were passing through the grey gas, the gas got in through the cuts, and poor Sympathiser Help was killed as well as his victim. The deaf mute’s were horrified.”
“Oh, don’t tell me more, sir; I can’t bear it.”
“I shall tell you more. I’ll make you scream with terror, because you insulted Eve.”
“I did not, sir. I swear I didn’t.”
“You did, but I’m not really cruel, Smith. It’s best to get them shrieking at this stage, because in a minute or so we go uphill into the forest of larches — the sweet gas zone — through which we pass for two minutes. Then downhill for five minutes into the valley of grey gas. Some Units, when they enter the sweet gas, try to hold their breath. No one can hold his breath for more than two minutes. All the worse if they do, because then they are conscious when they breathe the grey gas, which sears eyes, nostrils, mouth, and lungs for about thirty seconds before it stops the clock. Not scared yet, Smith?”
“Just a little, sir.”
“Why only a little?”
“Because we’ve both got real gas-masks.”
“You fool. If ever a Unit deserved the blue empyrean — as that accursed Commissioner calls it — you’re the man. Why should I risk my life to help a useless Unit like you to escape? The mask I gave you was a dud. Mine’s the only real gas protector in this Tunnel.
Smith screamed, and then was silent in thought.
What had he said to the Commissioner — one chance in a million at Tyburn? It was now an even chance, and perhaps, his heart beat wildly, a certainty. If not, he would be glad to die and to get away from people like Sympathiser Kind.
“Have you fainted, Smith?” asked Kind.
“No, I’ve not,” was the unexpectedly calm reply.
“What do you mean? I begin to admire you. Well, now we’re going uphill. Take deep breaths, Smith. It’s all for the… Hell, you feind, you’ve changed the masks — oh! I’ll hold my breath, I…”
Smith sat shivering as the trolley rose through a mound painted larches in the Tunnel. He was breathing quietly, and smelt nothing. Such was his degeneration that he felt pity for Sympathiser Kind. The trolley began to go downhill into a grey mist. Then came the sound of forced expiration, followed by an inspiratory shriek, and the trolley shook with convulsive moments movements for a second or so. Smith looked at his companion. Sympathiser Kind was limp, and the engorged veins on his bald head were black.
Slowly — or, to be precise, at the rate of three miles per hour — the trolley ascended out of the valley of the grey gas and continued on the level. At the end of a long vista Smith saw a small square of daylight, and gradually this square of daylight became larger and larger. As the trolley approached the exit Smith’s heart was once more thumping. Would the Commissioner be there? The Commissioner was not there. Twenty yards beyond the end of the Tunnel the interrupted plates of magnetic steel stopped at the buffer. Behind the buffer stood for little men, and by their side lay the container. The trolley met the buffer, the clamps sprang apart, the body of Sympathiser Kind fell sideways onto the asphalt, and Smith stepped out of his hygienic chair. Without a glance at Smith the four deaf mutes placed the body of the late Sympathiser Kind in the container, clamped on the lid, and carried it round a corner of the Institute. To his left Smith saw the great wall with the little steel door. He tore off his gas-mask, put it in his pocket, and next moment was walking like a free unit in the street.
Within an hour…
Join us tomorrow for the final instalment of The Perfect Eugenic State.
Illustration by Eric Fraser.