The Ultimate World
By BRYCE WALTON
After attaining all conceivable goals, then
what? The City was perfection, an ultimate city
that left nothing to be desired and sought after.
But the City was dying—for it had no purpose.
[Transcriber’s Note: This etext was produced from
Planet Stories Winter 1945.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
Low tinkling music awakened Amco. He stirred up out of semi-consciousness as the three-dim screen glowed purple. Lethargic nerves sharpened with intuitive sense of foreboding as the noble figure of the City’s Coordinator appeared in the three-dim radius.
The perfect, if characterless, features of the Coordinator were taut with strain.
“We’re confronted by a serious crisis, Amco,” his voice said, and waited.
Amco frowned. A crisis? How could perfection be confronted by crisis? The City was an ultimate City, colossal, tiers on tiers of intricacy that left nothing desired nor sought after. But—
The last episode that could be termed crisis had been six centuries ago in 9400 when an armada of heavily armed ships from an alien cosmos tried an invasion of Dhoma and were annihilated. Could they be facing another such attack? If so, it was a form of offensive unpredictable by the most advanced Dhomastrial minds. He examined the Coordinator’s waiting face.
“I see that the word ‘crisis’ is perplexing you, Amco.”
“Yes. I fail to evolve such a possibility.”
“Our city is dying,” said the Coordinator.
“How?” Amco asked. “How can perfection die?”
“That is the crisis,” said the Coordinator. “We have forgotten how to think. The City has reached a theoretical saturation point. The apparently insoluble problem of—no problems. Utter intellectual and neural satiation. We’re no longer motivated to exist. After attaining all conceivable goals, then what?”
A little flutter of interest stirred in Amco’s bored mind. “We must think again,” he said. “Constructively.”
“Then why don’t you think?” said the Coordinator softly.
Amco paused blankly. Then: “Wha—what about?”
“That,” said the Coordinator, “is our problem. Think of something to think about.”
Amco felt the atavistic fluttering again. “We’ve achieved all possible physical attainments. Perhaps the answer is in the psychoneurel. The imagination.”
“Possibly, Amco. Any practical ideas to follow up with?”
“I—I—No,” said Amco in almost a whisper. “But it would be sad to see the City die.”
The Coordinator trembled with the extreme atavism that differentiated him so starkly from the norm. He raised a clenched fist in a gesture symbolic of a time so long buried that it stirred fear in Amco.
“It mustn’t die!” he hissed. “It mustn’t die!”
“But you said—” began Amco. The Coordinator interrupted:
“Yes. Rotting with inactivity and futility, the logical next step is death. If we are unable to discover any purpose in living further—end it. But I can’t admit such a possibility. The plenum of all evolution mustn’t end in oblivion. The greatness of organic matter must be evolving toward some future other than nothingness. Flux must mean something besides an inevitable return to vacuum!”
“At least we have a problem,” said Amco.
“And the greatest problem of all,” said the Coordinator. “Because if we can find the true answer now, I shall dictate whether or not life as far as Dhoma is concerned should continue.”
Amco found himself tensing forward. “You mean if we could definitely determine that Dhomastrial life isn’t justified because it has no ultimate goal—you would destroy it?”
“Yes,” said the Coordinator hoarsely. “And why not?”
Amco finally managed to say, “No reason, logically. Why go on living without an ultimate goal?” His voice bore a note of resignation, but his eyes hinted at the anxiety he felt.
“That, then, is our problem,” enthused the Coordinator. “Is a worthy cause for continued Dhomastrial life determinable? If not, I’ll envelop Dhoma in the vibratory blasts that destroyed the invaders of 9400.” He paused, then added, thoughtfully, “Perhaps that will be the logical end of it.”
Amco revealed what had occurred to him when the Coordinator first mentioned the crisis. He said: “The space-time converter. That is an answer. We could go into the plegarthic time flow called the future and find out.”
The Coordinator nodded. “I can think of no other way. Even if it is unsatisfactory. Though it’s been proven that the space-time converter operates satisfactorily no rationale has ever been reached as to how it functions. The converter is illogical.”
Amco nodded, too. “It is that. Perhaps it’s been wise, restricting the converter. But I see no other way.”
“You agree then to make the attempt, Amco? You are the only one I could trust. I know of no one else who still retains adequate sense of responsibility.”
“Of course,” Amco was saying, his heart pounding abnormally, and his face flushed.
“Thank you, Amco. I put the future of Dhoma in your hands then. Any questions?”
“One,” said Amco. “What if my findings are negative? You are definitely determined to destroy all Dhomastrial life?”
Amco shrugged. He watched the three-dim screen fade.
Amco stood beside the space-time converter on the periphery of a dead sea. A slight cold wind blew from it, whispering of a worldly loneliness. Away from the sea stretched an undulating plane of naked clay, unblemished, glossy, cruel. An anemic pale red sun shown fitfully through a slight dust-mist on the dead sea’s horizon.
Realizing that outside his plastic suit, the air was crackling cold, Amco shivered.
He had plunged two million years into the plegarthic flow.
Amco turned away from the barren area that had been a teeming sea. He faced the City. Yes. It still stood as he had left it. It seemed incredible that it was still intact. And yet, if it was perfect, how could it have been touched even by time?
But it appeared quite dead like the rest of Dhoma. He began walking toward it.
Fear crawled like a live parasite into his heart, as he approached the City. Fear coupled with its antecedents, anxiety and uncertainty.
The City, dead? His brain balked at such a possibility. Let the sea die. And the sun and all of Dhoma. Let space shrivel and freeze and the stars go out. But the City had to go on living. It was too illogical that the humanoid and its inexhaustible ego should step off into oblivion. The City had to go on living.
But he could see no life. Nothing moved. Not the faintest aura suggestive of life. A coldness permeated the thin air, radiating from the gleaming plastoid of the City’s towering structures, gelid as from a corpse interned in eternal ice.
He found himself walking stiffly and fearfully through its familiar intricacies. He climbed other almost forgotten shafts and hurtled through the tubeways to remote sectors of the City. He stood, a pigmy among gigantic towers he had helped create two million years before, and felt crushed by grandeur, and vague terror.
He had found the answer for the Coordinator. It was simple enough in its futile horror. The City had died. There was not a trace of its inhabitants. There was no clue as to their fate. The City might have been abandoned yesterday, or two million years ago. It didn’t matter. There was no life in it. There weren’t even ghosts of things or of memories. Only grey, thick, crushing silence.
He looked over collonades toward the red, ugly nakedness of the plane, toward the space-time converter. It was a minute silver blob waiting beside the barren sea. This was the answer he had been sent across the millennia to find. Somehow, it seemed unjust, irrational.
Death, only death.
He would return and tell the Coordinator. The only cycle, the story of the plenum is merely an eruption that falls back as dust which some galactic wind would swirl away. A vacuum would efface the bloated plenum. And out of the vacuum would appear the dust again; and out of it would crawl colloidal mucous that would only return inexplicably to the dust again. And the galactic wind would again—
Amco shivered. But in spite of the growing terror, he was grateful that he had found out the truth. Now the Coordinator could frustrate, defeat completely the aimless, ridiculous evolving that led to—emptiness. Then for no cause repeated itself. He was grateful that he could be a factor in blotting out the whole illogical process. He started back out of the City toward the space-time converter.
Then he heard, or rather sensed the radiations. A vague, almost imperceptible tickling of hidden mental potentials flooded his heart with hope.
He plummeted down into the City’s heart. Somehow, he knew there was still a form of life in the City.
The smooth, soft walls of plastic stretched away and disappeared in a mauve green distance. Amco stood humbled, sensing something of magnitude beyond his ken in the scene.
Down the endless hall, growing smaller and smaller with distance, bodies lay outstretched on slabs. Monochromatic harmonies of light oscillated soothingly and dreamily. Their forms were nude and their noble heads were enmeshed in mechanical contrivances that eluded Amco’s technical genius.
As in a dream, he began walking down between the rows of corpses. Or were they alive? He couldn’t tell. Perhaps some elaborate form of burial with perfect preservation.
But the emotion reflected by every face differed. Differed in all the basic emotions of pain, joy, fear, pleasure, enlightenment, imbecility, perplexity, ecstasy, defeat, shame, grandeur—and all the endless shades of the intermingling of these and the gradations. Their hands lay open at their sides, and their eyes were closed. Yet the expressions on their faces were unmistakable.
The hall was sufficiently weird, bizzare and alien so that he was hardly surprised when he was accosted by the Robot.
The teleo-electronic man walked up and stopped in front of Amco. There was something unfriendly, almost inimical in his attitude. The emanations from the electronic brain seemed coldly unemotional:
“I suppose you must be destroyed,” the thought from the electronic brain impinged sharply on Amco’s consciousness.
“Why?” said Amco.
“I have been commanded to do so.”
“By them?” Amco motioned toward the rows of corpse like beings.
“Yes,” radiated the teleo-electronic man. “I was told to destroy anything that might intrude on the dreams of the sleepers. It’s very doubtful that they anticipated intrusion from something already dead. Why are you here?”
The thought penetrated Amco’s mind that no thought processes he might have could be given up to the robot according to Amco’s desires. His mind was completely open to the robot. He wanted to have a few thoughts to himself, but—
“Only the dead have that privilege,” said the robot.
And then the logical, the only realization Amco could maintain, flooded his brain: “But you cannot kill me. I am already dead.”
“My mind isn’t dialectical,” radiated the robot. “My mind lacks that human characteristic. You say you are from two million years in the past, and because of that, you are already dead and that I cannot kill you again. Such reasoning means nothing to my type of thinking apparatus. It couldn’t become an obsession with me. My orders are to destroy you. I will carry out that order. If you are already dead, it won’t matter. If you aren’t then—well—you soon will be.”
Amco, analyzing his emotions, found only a mild excitement. As an example of the world he had left, he proved its great need for change.
“Try to reason,” said Amco. “That command was given you to provide for the advent of aliens bent on harmful intent. I have no such intentions.”
“Why are you here?”
“I’m here to try and determine what course civilization has taken since my time. What course has evolution taken, if any? And if it has evolved, is there any conceivable goal toward which it is evolving?”
The teleo-electronic man’s reaction radiations were confused.
Amco glanced at the rows of outstretched bodies. “Is this the end? These Dhomans sleep. Is such sleep the ultimate end for two million years of struggle? If so, what is its nature and purpose?”
The teleo-electronic man radiated: “This is both the beginning and the ending. Somewhat of a state of eternity. I am fitted to repair myself so that I will also be eternal. I administer to them, and repair myself, and we all live on and on.”
Amco’s consciousness expressed distaste at the robot’s vagueness.
“You must pardon me,” emanated the robot. “I love beauty of words for its own sake. Thought doesn’t interest me. I am not an intellectual, but an aesthete. I brood and am forced to introspect over long periods. You understand. Damn the loneliness! I’ve been a long time alone. A long time. Wait! Two million years! These sleepers have slept for almost that long. One million nine hundred and fifty thousand. Only a few years after you left your City.” The robot paused, then lost interest. “So lonely.”
Amco’s mind whirled confusedly. Two million years of sleep for these—these were the same who had inhabited the City when he—perhaps the Coordinator—perhaps—Why he had just missed becoming a living corpse himself by a few years. Now, when he returned—his mind groaned with strain.
“Would you mind explaining all this,” he thought.
“No,” replied the robot. “Anything I tell you, you won’t remember anyway when you return to your own time. It will not have happened yet.”
Amco’s thoughts were ones of hopeless dismissal. The trivial cliches of the paradox of time travel. He had gone over them countless times with the Coordinator. Of course it was illogical. But it seemed to work. Perhaps three-dimensional logic was distorted when applied four-dimensionally. He was partially a four-dimensional object now, so—
“So, I’ll tell you of this hall of dreams,” radiated the teleo-electronic man dramatically….
“Dhomans have always been dissatisfied with the shallow, sensory world. This is their last recourse to escape from this shallowness. You see, they have retreated into the boundless realms of the mind to live.
“There are no restrictions, no physical limits to the thought potential of the brain. This sleeper here just at my right proves that. He was the first of the sleepers. So he has lain here for almost two million years. Yet, it’s been no longer than a second, no longer than no time at all. In dreams there is no time. A moment may be forever. Forever doesn’t exist—until you create it. Then you can destroy it with a thought. Strange isn’t it?”
Amco studied the indicated figure. “He doesn’t seem to be very happy about the whole thing.”
“Why should he be happy? Happiness grows tiring. Then he wills his consciousness into other emotions. He has lived them all. Countless combinations and sub combinations until it becomes an infinity of complexities, beyond computation—even for me. And then after all emotion has been tapped on this world, the sleeper creates in his mind another, and the process repeats itself. And then he may create worlds within worlds within worlds. It is an endless, deathless joy. An eternal newness of sensation. It’s the ultimate state, the final goal.”
Amco stood and looked into the mauve infinity of the hall. Somewhere in the past the Coordinator waited. But why return to him? The City did go on. It wasn’t destroyed. There was no need in returning. Why should he go back and miss an eternity of true perfection—the perfect free agency of living? “You will put me into this final sleep,” he radiated for the robot.
The robot stood as though undecided. Then emanated: “I will do it. I will forget their orders to destroy all intruders. You have broken the unbearable pattern of my loneliness, and for that you should receive something in gratitude. I will—”
The robot half turned as though to fulfill his answer, then turned back slowly. “On second thought,” his mind said, “it isn’t what I must do.”
“Why not,” radiated Amco nervously.
The robot looked at the sleeping dreamer at his right, and said: “Because it just dawned on me. Why shouldn’t I have this pleasure of living the ultimately perfect life? Listen. I’ll instruct you so that you can carry out the duties that I have to do now. You can administer to them from now on. And also to me. For a little while anyway.”
“You!” radiated Amco, breaking into vocal speech in his rage. “What makes you think you’re entitled to that honor? You were created for a specific purpose—to oversee the sleep of your creators. I’m like them. You’re only metal, a machine. No more nonsense. Come.”
The teleo-electronic man stood in his mechanical coldness. “Perhaps they made a mistake when they constructed me. My mind is much more delicate, sensitive and human than they intended it should be. I think. But it seems to be much too late to rectify the error. I’m human. I deserve the same considerations as a human, as you. I’m even more deserving of the relaxation and beautiful dreams of the Sleep than you because I’ve served in the indescribable monotony of mechanical servitude for so long. So, I’ve definitely decided. You’ll take my place.”
Amco felt frustrated at the teleo-electronic man’s logic. His longings warped his own logic. “You were designed for this duty. I’d be vulnerable to fatigue, sickness, death, whereas you—”
The teleo-electronic man started moving toward Amco. “No. I’m going to make an electronic body for your brain—a body of eternity like mine. I’ll construct this body according to your specifications—superficially that is.”
Amco backed away.
“Don’t make it difficult,” radiated the robot. “You can’t avoid the inevitable.”
Overcoming the metal man was out of the question. Physical violence of any sort was vague and abstract to Amco anyway. Resignation saved him from confusion. His only regret now was that he would be cheated out of the sleep. He had forgotten the Coordinator who waited for his answer as to the goal of evolution.
The teleo-electronic man was radiating: “If you’ll accept my proposition amiably, I’ll make a pact with you. We’ll alternate. You’ll administer the sleepers for a certain agreed on period of time, then I’ll relieve you. Say at intervals of a thousand years.”
Amco decided suddenly that it would be more propitious for him if he tried to run away from the robot, get back to the space-time converter and go back to his own time. He was involving himself too deeply in aeons.
“No. I’ll not let you return,” radiated the robot. “My mind is set on the sleep.”
“Wait,” said Amco, bursting into speech again. “I’ve just thought of something rather vast.”
“What,” radiated the robot.
“Have any of the sleepers ever awakened?”
“Of course not,” radiated the robot. “Why should they?”
“If they’ve never awakened,” said Amco. “How do you know that all you’ve explained to me about their timeless paradise is really true? Their state resembles death. Too much so. Human kind used to delude themselves with the dream that they continued a kind of super life after they were dead. But alas, no one ever came back from paradise to prove it, and the paradoxical concept gradually died out. It was just wishful thinking. Exactly the same kind of suggestion has dulled your rationale mind.
“Before we go on with this conflicting egoism, let’s revive one of the bodies, if possible, and see if its consciousness, its mind, really still lives as you’ve insisted that it does. Or whether only its physical body exists in some state of preservation resembling life. Perhaps all these countless bodies are no better than mindless pieces of cold storage.”
The robot backed away uncertainly. “I never thought of that possibility. It is quite possible, too. Perhaps their minds, their neural circuits don’t really function at all. None has ever awakened to tell.”
Suddenly, the teleo-electronic man spun forcefully, and strode to the side of the first sleeper whom he had indicated before to Amco.
“We’ll revive this one,” he radiated. “His sleep has been the longest. He was the first sleeper.”
“How are they awakened?” questioned Amco “—if they can be awakened at all.”
“I—I don’t know,” radiated the electronic man humbly. “That was never included in my training. Evidently it wasn’t planned at all.”
A sound startled Amco as a sudden sound might be expected to do in a place that seemed dead and soundless. A human moan. It rasped alienly down the hall, echoing eerily through the loneliness. The teleo-electronic man stared. The first sleeper was moving.
“None of them have stirred before,” radiated the robot. “Look! His arms are moving.”
Amco was watching. The arms that hadn’t moved for so very long were moving now. The wrists flexed. The forearms quivered, then the whole arm moved up. Fingers spread, clenched, spread again. Lips parted, eye-lids flickered slightly.
The robot hastily removed the mechanism from the first sleeper’s head and bent over him. Amco felt the mystic awakening vapor of the sleeper’s brain.
Abruptly the first sleeper sat up and looked at them. Amco felt that he was looking into space and time. The eyes of the now awakened sleeper seemed circuitous, spinning pools of eternity.
“How long?” his extra-sensory communication centers radiated, weakly at first. “Where I’ve been, you know, there’s no time.”
“One million nine hundred and fifty thousand years,” radiated the robot. “By last table of reckoning, Arnim 500 A.S.”
The first sleeper smiled. It was a thin, strangely alien smile for human lips. “One million nine hundred and fifty thousand years. I sense that such a span impresses you. To me it might have been a trillion years multiplied by itself, or the fraction of a second’s most minute fraction.
“Time, and matter, there is a point of difference. Matter is limited. It has a beginning, an end. I can’t explain it to you. You would have to travel through it all, as I have, before you could understand. Anyway, I am tired. It is an ultimate incredible weariness.”
The sleeper understood. Amco was lost. He was thinking frantically, how could one be tired of eternity?
“Because I have experienced everything,” said the sleeper. “I have gone back to the first of the beginning. I have been into the future where it merges with the beginning I found in the past. I have floated through space that seemed limitless, but I found that it only eventually became the beginning I found in the past. Well, in all the dimensions, in all the spaces and times and imaginative worlds, I found only one path—it led back to the beginning. But I have had the foresight to save one world for the last.”
Amco was aware of an emptiness creeping through his heart.
“But what could remain, sleeper?” he murmured.
The sleeper continued: “My experience is completely inconceivable to you. The splendor of traveling as light does, effacing space, bending as it bends, repeating itself into endless prisms of existence. The swirling of the electron, or the frantic swimming through the plasma of monsters. I have lived and relived all the complexities of all the combinations. But I’ve anticipated the ultimate. I’ve prepared for it. I saved what might prove to be the final eternal moment for the last.”
The sleeper closed his eyes and relaxed. His lips moved slightly. “You know what to do, Robot.”
Amco backed away. He swallowed hard, and brushed his eyes. He turned toward the teleo-electronic man—
“Odd,” it radiated, “that oblivion, or death, or whatever symbol is used to describe the Unknown, should be the final and most desirable world of all worlds.”
Amco looked dazedly about, still backing away from the inert sleeper. “Yes. Yes, odd. Very odd. You will let me go now, let me return to my own time. I don’t desire the fate of this sleeper, and I’m sure you don’t. Let me return.”
The teleo-electronic man nodded. “It does seem futile now. You can return.”
Amco did not answer. He was running, running frantically away from the future.
At least he had found the true, ultimate goal. Oblivion. Now he could inform the Coordinator of that fact. He would be the instrument through which all this impossible flow termed life would be terminated—at least for Earth and for his own particular species of rational life.
Why evolve a few million years more only to decide that oblivion was preferable? One could find that immediately. The sleeper, through the robot, had brought about his own death because he had learned the ultimate truth.
“Of course, you can’t remember, Amco,” the Coordinator said. “We foresaw that. It’s one of the paradoxes of time travel. But now comprehending its principle, I anticipated illogical results in its effects. I thought, or rather hoped, you would remember.”
Amco shrugged. “There is some kind of vague, indistinct memory in my mind. I’m convinced of that. But—I can’t grasp it. Wherever my discoveries are, they are important to us. They would have answered our problem and given us a definite course of action.”
The Coordinator turned. “We still have a problem at least to work on. That’s more than we had before. New worlds must be devised for the senses and the mind. This one is about exhausted.”
Amco nodded. “Meanwhile,” he said, “I’ll try constantly to recall what I discovered in the future. Surely some sensory impression was made.”
Amco isolated himself in laboratory and worked in exhaustive auto-psycheometry. And after many centuries succeeded in uncovering the buried memory. The date of his self destruction, through the teleo-electronic man, was Arnim 500 A.S.#ENGLISH