Maps in a mirror, p.36

Maps in a Mirror, page 36

 

Maps in a Mirror
 



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  Whether the custodian’s answer was merely describing what the dog had done or had a more emphatic purpose was irrelevant. Obviously the doghouse was not normally used for a dog. And if that was true, what was a doghouse doing on the roof of the Plant Science Building?

  The damnpowercompany brought civil actions against the city of Manhattan, Kansas, and a court injunction insisted that all doghouses be disconnected from all electric wiring systems. The city promptly brought countersuit against the damnpowercompany (a very popular move) and appealed the court injunction.

  The damnpowercompany shut off all the power in Manhattan, Kansas.

  Nobody in Manhattan, Kansas, noticed, except the branch office of the damnpowercompany, which now found itself the only building in the city without electricity.

  The “Doghouse War” got quite a bit of notoriety. Feature articles appeared in magazines about Doghouses Unlimited and its elusive founder, Robert Redford, who refused to be interviewed and in fact could not be found. All five networks did specials on the cheap energy source. Statistics were gathered showing that not only did seven percent of the American public have doghouses, but also that 99.8 percent of the American public wanted to have doghouses. The 0.2 percent represented, presumably, power company stockholders and executives. Most politicians could add, or had aides who could, and the prospect of elections coming up in less than a year made the result clear.

  The antisolar power law was repealed.

  The power companies’ stock plummeted on the stock market.

  The world’s most unnoticed depression began.

  With alarming rapidity an economy based on expensive energy fell apart. The OPEC monolith immediately broke up, and within five months petroleum had fallen to 38c a barrel. Its only value was in plastics and as a lubricant, and the oil producing nations had been overproducing for those needs.

  The reason the depression wasn’t much noticed was because Doghouses Unlimited easily met the demand for their product. Scenting a chance for profit, the government slapped a huge export tax on the doghouses. Doghouses Unlimited retaliated by publishing the complete plans for the doghouse and declaring that foreign companies would not be used for manufacturing it.

  The U.S. government just as quickly removed the huge tax, whereupon Doghouses Unlimited announced that the plans it had published were not complete, and continued to corner the market around the world.

  As government after government, through subterfuge, bribery, or, in a few cases, popular revolt, were forced to allow Doghouses Unlimited into their countries, Robert Redford (the doghouse one) became even more of a household word than Robert Redford (the old-time actor). Folk legends which had formerly been ascribed to Kuan Yu, Paul Bunyan, or Gautama Buddha became, gradually, attached to Robert Doghouse Redford.

  And, at last, every family in the world that wanted one had a cheap energy source, an unlimited energy source, and everybody was happy. So happy that they shared their newfound plenty with all God’s creatures, feeding birds in the winter, leaving bowls of milk for stray cats, and putting dogs in the doghouses.

  Mklikluln rested his chin in his hands and reflected on the irony that he had, quite inadvertently, saved the world for the bipedal dominant race, solely as a byproduct of his campaign to get a good home for every dog. But good results are good results, and humanity—either his own or the bipedals—couldn’t condemn him completely for his murder of an Arab political prisoner the year before.

  “What will happen when you come?” he asked his people, though of course none of them could hear him. “I’ve saved the world—but when these creatures, bright as they are, come in contact with our infinitely superior intelligence, won’t it destroy them? Won’t they suffer in humiliation to realize that we are so much more powerful than they; that we can span galactic distances at the speed of light, communicate telepathically, separate our minds and allow our bodies to die while we float in space unscathed, and then, at the beck of a simple machine, come instantaneously and inhabit the bodies of animals completely different from our former bodies?”

  He worried—but his responsibility to his own people was clear. If this bipedal race was so proud they could not cope with inferiority, that was not Mklikluln’s problem.

  He opened the top drawer of his desk in the San Diego headquarters of Doghouses Unlimited, his latest refuge from the interview seekers, and pushed a button on a small box.

  From the box, a powerful burst of electromagnetic energy went out to the eighty million doghouses in southern California. Each doghouse relayed the same signal in an unending chain that gradually spread all over the world—wherever doghouses could be found.

  When the last doghouse was linked to the network, all the doghouses simultaneously transmitted something else entirely. A signal that only sneered at lightspeed and that crossed light-years almost instantaneously. A signal that called millions of encapsulated minds that slept in their mindfields until they heard the call, woke, and followed the signal back to its source, again at speeds far faster than poor pedestrian light.

  They gathered around the larger binary in the third orbit from their new sun, and listened as Mklikluln gave a full report. They were delighted with his work, and commended him highly, before convicting him of murder of an Arabian political prisoner and ordering him to commit suicide. He felt very proud, for the commendation they had given him was rarely awarded, and he smiled as he shot himself.

  And then the minds slipped downward toward the doghouses that still called to them.

  “Argworfgyardworfl,” said Royce’s dog as it bounded excitedly through the backyard.

  “Dog’s gone crazy,” Royce said, but his two sons laughed and ran around with the dog as it looped the yard a dozen times, only to fall exhausted in front of the doghouse.

  “Griffwigrofrf,” the dog said again, panting happily. It trotted up to Royce and nuzzled him.

  “Cute little bugger,” Royce said.

  The dog walked over to a pile of newspapers waiting for a paper drive, pulled the top newspaper off the stack, and began staring at the page.

  “I’ll be humdingered,” said Royce to Junie, who was bringing out the food for their backyard picnic supper. “Dog looks like he’s readin’ the paper.”

  “Here, Robby!” shouted Royce’s oldest son, Jim. “Here, Robby! Chase a stick.”

  The dog, having learned how to read and write from the newspaper, chased the stick, brought it back, and instead of surrendering it to Jim’s outstretched hand, began to write with it in the dirt.

  “Hello, man,” wrote the dog. “Perhaps you are surprised to see me writing.”

  “Well,” said Royce, looking at what the dog had written. “Here, Junie, will you look at that. This is some dog, eh?” And he patted the dog’s head and sat down to eat. “Now I wonder, is there anybody who’d pay to see a dog do that?”

  “We mean no harm to your planet,” wrote the dog.

  “Jim,” said Junie, slapping spoonfuls of potato salad onto paper plates, “you make sure that dog doesn’t start scratching around in the petunias.”

  “C’mere, Robby,” said Jim. “Time to tie you up.”

  “Wrowrf,” the dog answered, looking a bit perturbed and backing away from the chain.

  “Daddy,” said Jim, “the dog won’t come when I call anymore.”

  Impatiently, Royce got up from his chair, his mouth full of chicken salad sandwich. “Doggonit, Jim, if you don’t control the dog we’ll just have to get rid of it. We only got it for you kids anyway!” And Royce grabbed the dog by the collar and dragged it to where Jimmy held the other end of the chain.

  Clip.

  “Now you learn to obey, dog, cause if you don’t I don’t care what tricks you can do, I’ll sell ya.”

  “Owrf.”

  “Right. Now you remember that.”

  The dog watched them with sad, almost frightened eyes all through dinner. Royce began to feel a little guilty, and gave the dog a leftover ham.

&nbs
p; That night Royce and Junie seriously discussed whether to show off the dog’s ability to write, and decided against it, since the kids loved the dog and it was cruel to use animals to perform tricks. They were, after all, very enlightened people.

  And the next morning they discovered that it was a good thing they’d decided that way—because all anyone could talk about was their dog’s newfound ability to write, or unscrew garden hoses, or lay and start an entire fire from a cold empty fireplace to a bonfire. “I got the most talented dog in the world,” crowed Detweiler, only to retire into grim silence as everyone else in the bowling team bragged about his own dog.

  “Mine goes to the bathroom in the toilet now, and flushes it, too!” one boasted.

  “And mine can fold an entire laundry, after washing her little paws so nothing gets dirty.”

  The newspapers were full of the story, too, and it became clear that the sudden intelligence of dogs was a nationwide—a worldwide—phenomenon. Aside from a few superstitious New Guineans, who burned their dogs to death as witches, and some Chinese who didn’t let their dogs’ strange behavior stop them from their scheduled appointment with the dinnerpot, most people were pleased and proud of the change in their pets.

  “Worth twice as much to me now,” boasted Bill Wilson, formerly an up-and-coming executive with the damnpowercompany. “Not only fetches the birds, but plucks ’em and cleans ’em and puts ’em in the oven.”

  And Kay Block smiled and went home to her mastiff, which kept her good company and which she loved very, very much.

  “In the five years since the sudden rise in dog intelligence,” said Dr. Wheelwright to his class of graduate students in animal intelligence, “we have learned a tremendous amount about how intelligence arises in animals. The very suddenness of it has caused us to take a second look at evolution. Apparently mutations can be much more complete than we had supposed, at least in the higher functions. Naturally, we will spend much of this semester studying the research on dog intelligence, but for a brief overview:

  “At the present time it is believed that dog intelligence surpasses that of the dolphin, though it still falls far short of man’s. However, while the dolphin’s intelligence is nearly useless to us, the dog can be trained as a valuable, simple household servant, and at last it seems that man is no longer alone on his planet. To which animal such a rise in intelligence will happen next, we cannot say, any more than we can be certain that such a change will happen to any other animal.”

  Question from the class.

  “Oh, well, I’m afraid it’s like the big bang theory. We can guess and guess at the cause of certain phenomena, but since we can’t repeat the event in a laboratory, we will never be quite sure. However, the best guess at present is that some critical mass of total dog population in a certain ratio to the total mass of dog brain was reached that pushed the entire species over the edge into a higher order of intelligence. This change, however, did not affect all dogs equally—primarily it affected dogs in civilized areas, leading many to speculate on the possibility that continued exposure to man was a contributing factor. However, the very fact that many dogs, mostly in uncivilized parts of the world, were not affected destroys completely the idea that cosmic radiation or some other influence from outer space was responsible for the change. In the first place, any such influence would have been detected by the astronomers constantly watching every wavelength of the night sky, and in the second place, such an influence would have affected all dogs equally.”

  Another question from a student.

  “Who knows? But I doubt it. Dogs, being incapable of speech, though many have learned to write simple sentences in an apparently mnemonic fashion somewhere between the blind repetition of parrots and the more calculating repetition at high speeds by dolphins—urn, how did I get into this sentence? I can’t get out!”

  Student laughter.

  “Dogs, I was saying, are incapable of another advance in intelligence, particularly an advance bringing them to equal intellect with man, because they cannot communicate verbally and because they lack hands. They are undoubtedly at their evolutionary peak. It is only fortunate that so many circumstances combined to place man in the situation he has reached. And we can only suppose that somewhere, on some other planet, some other species might have an even more fortunate combination leading to even higher intelligence. But let us hope not!” said the professor, scratching the ears of his dog, B. F. Skinner. “Right, B. F.? Because man may not be able to cope with the presence of a more intelligent race!”

  Student laughter.

  “Owrowrf,” said B. F. Skinner, who had once been called Hihiwnkn on a planet where white hexagons had telepathically conquered time and space; hexagons who had only been brought to this pass by a solar process they had not quite learned how to control. What he wished he could say was, “Don’t worry, professor. Humanity will never be fazed by a higher intelligence. It’s too damn proud to notice.”

  But instead he growled a little, lapped some water from a bowl, and lay down in a corner of the lecture room as the professor droned on.

  It snowed in September in Kansas in the autumn of the year 2000, and Jim (Don’t call me Jimmy anymore, I’m grown up) was out playing with his dog Robby as the first flakes fell.

  Robby had been uprooting crabgrass with his teeth and paws, a habit much encouraged by Royce and Junie, when Jim yelled, “Snow!” and a flake landed on the grass in front of the dog. The flake melted immediately, but Robby watched for another, and another, and another. And he saw the whiteness of the flakes, and the delicate six-sided figures so spare and strange and familiar and beautiful, and he wept.

  “Mommy!” Jim called out. “It looks like Robby’s crying!”

  “It’s just water in his eyes,” Junie called back from the kitchen, where she stood washing radishes in front of an open window. “Dogs don’t cry.”

  But the snow fell deep all over the city that night, and many dogs stood in the snow watching it fall, sharing an unspoken reverie.

  “Can’t we?” again and again the thought came from a hundred, a thousand minds.

  “No, no, no,” came the despairing answer. For without fingers of some kind, how could they ever build the machines that would let them encapsulate again and leave this planet?

  And in their despair, they cursed for the millionth time that fool Mklikluln, who had got them into this.

  “Death was too good for the bastard,” they agreed, and in a worldwide vote they removed the commendation they had voted him. And then they all went back to having puppies and teaching them everything they knew.

  The puppies had it easier. They had never known their ancestral home, and to them snowflakes were merely fun, and winter was merely cold. And instead of standing out in the snow, they curled up in the warmth of their doghouses and slept.

  THE ORIGINIST

  Leyel Forska sat before his lector display, reading through an array of recently published scholarly papers. A holograph of two pages of text hovered in the air before him. The display was rather larger than most people needed their pages to be, since Level’s eyes were no younger than the rest of him. When he came to the end he did not press the PAGE key to continue the article. Instead he pressed NEXT.

  The two pages he had been reading slid backward about a centimeter, joining a dozen previously discarded articles, all standing in the air over the lector. With a soft beep, a new pair of pages appeared in front of the old ones.

  Deet spoke up from where she sat eating breakfast. “You’re only giving the poor soul two pages before you consign him to the wastebin?”

  “I’m consigning him to oblivion,” Leyel answered cheerfully. “No, I’m consigning him to hell.”

  “What? Have you rediscovered religion in your old age?”

  “I’m creating one. It has no heaven, but it has a terrible everlasting hell for young scholars who think they can make their reputation by attacking my work.”

  “Ah, you have a theology,
said Deet. “Your work is holy writ, and to attack it is blasphemy.”

  “I welcome intelligent attacks. But this young tube-headed professor from—yes, of course, Minus University—”

  “Old Minus U?”

  “He thinks he can refute me, destroy me, lay me in the dust, and all he has bothered to cite are studies published within the last thousand years.”

  “The principle of millennial depth is still widely used—”

  “The principle of millennial depth is the confession of modern scholars that they are not willing to spend as much effort on research as they do on academic politics. I shattered the principle of millennial depth thirty years ago. I proved that it was—”

  “Stupid and outmoded. But my dearest darling sweetheart Leyel, you did it by spending part of the immeasurably vast Forska fortune to search for inaccessible and forgotten archives in every section of the Empire.”

  “Neglected and decaying. I had to reconstruct half of them.”

  “It would take a thousand universities’ library budgets to match what you spent on research for ‘Human Origin on the Null Planet.’ ”

  “But once I spent the money, all those archives were open. They have been open for three decades. The serious scholars all use them, since millennial depth yields nothing but predigested, preexcreted muck. They search among the turds of rats who have devoured elephants, hoping to find ivory.”

  “So colorful an image. My breakfast tastes much better now.” She slid her tray into the cleaning slot and glared at him. “Why are you so snappish? You used to read me sections from their silly little papers and we’d laugh. Lately you’re just nasty.”

  Leyel sighed. “Maybe it’s because I once dreamed of changing the galaxy, and every day’s mail brings more evidence that the galaxy refuses to change.”

  “Nonsense. Hari Seldon has promised that the Empire will fall any day now.”

  There. She had said Hari’s name. Even though she had too much tact to speak openly of what bothered him, she was hinting that Leyel’s bad humor was because he was still waiting for Hari Seldon’s answer. Maybe so—Leyel wouldn’t deny it. It was annoying that it had taken Hari so long to respond. Leyel had expected a call the day Hari got his application. At least within the week. But he wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of admitting that the waiting bothered him. “The Empire will be killed by its own refusal to change. I rest my case.”

 

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