home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | | collections | | | add

The Custodian

by William Tenn

May 9, 2190-Well, I did it! It was close, but fortunately I have a very suspicious nature. My triumph, my fulfillment was almost stolen from me, but I was too clever for them. As a result, I am happy to note in this, my will and testament, I now begin my last year of life.

No, let me be accurate. This last year of life, the year that I will spend in an open tomb, really began at noon today. Then, in the second sub-basement of the Museum of Modern Astronautics, I charged a dial for the third successive time and got a completely negative response.

That meant that I, Piyatil, was the only human being alive on Earth. What a straggle I have had to achieve that distinction!

Well, it's all over now, I'm fairly certain. Just to be on the

Safe side, I'll come down and check the anthropometer every day or so for the next week, but I don't think there's a chance in the universe that I'll get a positive reading. I've had my last, absolutely my final and ultimate battle with the forces of righteousness-and I've won. Left in secure, undisputed possession of my coffin, there's nothing for me to do now but enjoy myself.

And that shouldn't be too hard. After all, I've been planning the pleasures for years!

Still, as I tugged off my suit of berrillit blue and climbed upstairs into the.sunlight, I couldn't help thinking of the others. Gruzeman, Prej'aut, and possibly even Mo-Diki. They'd have been here with me now if only they'd had a shade less academic fervor, a touch more of intelligent realism.

Too bad in a way. And yet it makes my vigil more solemn, more glorious. As I sat down on the marble bench between Rozinski's heroic statues of the Spaceman and Spacewoman, I shrugged and dismissed the memories of Gruzeman, Pre-jaut, and Mo-Diki.

They had failed. I hadn't.

I leaned back, relaxing for the first time in more than a month. My eyes swept over the immense bronze figures towering above me, two pieces of sculpture yearning agonizingly for the stars, and I burst into a chuckle. The absolute incongruity of my hiding place hit me for the first time-imagine, the Museum of Modern Astronautics! Multiplied by the incredible nervous tension, the knuckle-biting fear of the past five days, the chuckle bounced up and down in my throat and became a giggle, then a splutter, and finally a reverberating, chest-heaving laugh that I couldn't stop. It brought all the deer out of the museum park te stand in front of the marble bench where Fiyatil, the last man on Earth, choked and coughed and wheezed and cackled at his senile accomplishment.

I don't know how long the fit might have held me, but a cloud, merely in the course of its regular duties as a summer cloud, happened to slide in front of the sun. That did it. I stopped laughing, as if a connection had been cut, and glanced upward.

The cloud went on, and the sunlight poured down as warmly as ever, but I shivered a bit.

Two pregnant young does came a little closer and stood watching as I massaged my neck. Laughter had given it a crick, "Well, my dears," I said, tossing them a quotation from one of my favorite religions, "it would seem that in the midst of life we are at last truly in death."

They munched at me impassively.

May 11, 2190-I have spent the last two days putting myself and my supplies in order and making plans for the immediate future. Spending a lifetime in sober preparation for the duties of custodianship is one thing. Finding suddenly that you have become the custodian, the last of your sect as well as your race-and yet, peculiarly, the fulfillment of them both-that is quite another thing. I find myself burning with an insane pride. And a moment later, I turn cold with the incredible, the majestic responsibility that I face.

Food will be no problem. In the commissary of this one institution, there are enough packaged meals to keep a man like myself well fed for ten years, let alone twelve months. And wherever I go on the planet, from Museum of Buddhist Antiquities in Tibet to the Panorama of Political History in Sevastopol, I will find a similar plenty,

Of course, packaged meals are packaged meals: somebody else's idea of what my menu should be. Now that the last Affirmer has gone, taking with him his confounded austerity, there is no Idnger any need for me to be a hypocrite. I can at last indulge my taste for luxury and bathe my tongue in gustatory baubles. Unfortunately I grew to manhood under Affirmer domination and the hypocrisies I learned to practice in sixty cringing years have merged with the essential substance of my character. I doubt, therefore, that I will be preparing any meals of fresh food from the ancient recipes.

And then, too, meals of fresh food would involve the death of creatures that are currently alive and enjoying themselves. This seems a bit silly under the circumstances

Nor did I need to put any of the automatic laundries into operation. Yet I have. Why clean my clothes, I asked myself, when I can discard a tunic the moment it becomes slightly soiled and step into a newly manufactured garment, still stiff in memory of the machine matrix whence it came?

Habit told me why I couldn't. Custodian concepts make it impossible for me to do what an Affirmer in my position would find easiest: shrug out of the tunic on a clear patch of ground and leave it lying behind me like a huge, brightly colored dropping. On the other hand, much Affirmer teaching that my conscious mind has been steadfastly rejecting for decades, I find to my great annoyance, has seeped into the unconscious osmotically. The idea of deliberately destroying anything as functional, if relatively unesthetic, as a dirty Tunic, Male, Warm-Season, Affirmer Ship-Classification No. 2352558.3, appalls me-even against my will.

Over and over again, I tell myself that Affirmer Ship-Classification Numbers now mean nothing to me. Less than nothing. They are as meaningless as cargo symbols on the Ark to the stevedores who loaded it, the day after Noah sailed.

Yet I step into a one-seater flyball for a relaxing tour of the museum grounds and something in my mind says: No. 58184.72, I close my teeth upon a forkful of well-seasoned Luncheon Protein Component and note that I am chewing Ship-Classification Numbers 15762.94 through 15763.01. I even remind myself that it is a category to be brought aboard among the last, and only when the shipboard representative of the Ministry of Survival and Preservation has surrendered his command to the shipboard representative of the Ministry of The Journey.

Not a single Affirmer walks the Earth at the moment. Together with their confounded multiplicity of government bureaus-including the one in which all people professing Custodianism had to be registered, the Ministry of Antiquities and Useless Relics-they are now scattered among a hundred or so planetary systems in the galaxy. But all this seems to matter not a bit to my idiotically retentive mind which goes on quoting texts memorized decades ago for Survival Placement Examinations long since superseded and forgotten by those in authority.

They are so efficient, the Affirmers, so horribly, successfully efficient! As a youngster, I confided to my unfortunately loquacious comrade, Ru-Sat, that I had begun creative painting on canvas in my leisure hours. Immediately, my parents, in collaboration with my recreational adviser, had me volunteered into the local Children's Extra Work for Extra Survival Group, where I was assigned to painting numbers and symbols on packing eases. "Not pleasure but persistence, persistence, persistence will preserve the race of Man," I had to repeat from the Affirmer catechism before I was allowed to sit down to any meal from that time on.

Later, of course, I was old enough to register as a conscientious Custodian. "Please," my father choked at me when

I told him, "don't come around any more. Don't bother us, I'm speaking for the entire family, Fiyatil, including your uncles on your mother's side. You've decided to become a dead man: that's your business now. Just forget you ever had parents and relatives-and let us forget we had a son."

This meant I could free myself from Survival chores by undertaking twice as much work with the microfilm teams that traveled from museum to museum and archaeological site to skyscraper city. But still there were the periodic Survival Placement Exams, which everyone agreed didn't apply to Custodians but insisted we take as a gesture of good will to the society which was allowing us to follow our consciences. Exams which necessitated putting aside a volume entitled Religious Design and Decoration in Temples of the Upper Nile for the dreary, dingy, well-thumbed Ship-Classification Manual and Uniform Cargo Stowage Guide. I had given up the hope of being an artist myself, but those ugly little decimals took up time that I wished to spend contemplating the work of men who had lived in less fanatic and less frenzied centuries.

They still do! So powerful is habit that, now that I have no questions en dehydration to answer ever again, I still find myself doing the logarithmic work necessary to find out where a substance is packed once its water is removed. It is horribly frustrating to be mired after all in an educational system from which I turned completely away!

Of course, the studies I am involved in at the moment probably don't help very much. Yet it is very important for me to pick up enough information from the elementary ed-ueatories in this museum, for example, to insure my not having to worry about the possibility of a flyball breakdown over a jungle area. I'm no technician, no trouble-shooter. I have to learn instead how to choose equipment in good working order and how to start operating it without doing any damage to delicate components.

This technological involvement irritates me. Outside, the abandoned art of 70,000 years beckons-and here I sit, memorizing dull facts about the power plants of worker robots, scrutinizing blueprints of the flyballs' antigrav screws, and acting for all the world like an Affirmer captain trying to win a commendation from the Ministry of The Journey before he blasts off.

Yet it is precisely this attitude that is responsible for my, being here now, instead of sitting disconsolately aboard the

Affirmer scout ship with Mo-Diki, Gruzeman, and Prejaut. While they exulted in their freedom and charged about the planet like creaky old colts, I made for the Museum of Modern Astronautics and learned how to operate and read an an-thropometer and how to activate the berrillit blue. I hated to waste the time, but I couldn't forget how significant to an Affirmer, especially a modern one, is the concept of the sa-credness of human life. They had betrayed us once; they were bound to come back to make certain that the betrayal left no loose ends in the form of Custodians enjoying fulfillment. I was right then, and I know I am right now-but I get so bored with the merely useful!

Speaking of the anthropometer, I had a nasty shock two hours ago. The alarm went off-and stopped. I scurried downstairs to it, shaking out the berrillit blue suit as I ran and hoping desperately that I wouldn't blow myself up in the course of using it a second time.

By the time I got to the machine, it had stopped caterwauling. I charged the all-directional dial over ten times and got no response. Therefore, according to the anthropometer manual, nothing human was moving about anywhere in the entire solar system. I had keyed the machine to myself elec-trocephalographically so that I wouldn't set off the alarm. Yet the alarm had gone off, indisputably recording the presence of humanity other than myself, however temporary its existence had been. It was very puzzling.

My conclusion is that some atmospheric disturbance or faulty connection inside the anthropemeter set the machine off. Or possibly, in my great joy over being left behind a few days ago, I carelessly damaged the apparatus.

I heard the Affirmer scout ship radio the news of the capture of my colleagues to a mother vessel waiting beyond Pluto: I know I'm the sole survivor on Earth.

Besides, if it had been skulking Affirmers who set the alarm off, their own anthropometer would have detected me at the same time, since I had been walking about unprotected by the insulating effect of berrillit blue. The museum would have been surrounded by flyball crews and I'd have been caught almost immediately.

No, I cannot believe I have anything more to fear from Affirmers. They have satisfied themselves with their last-moment return of two days ago, I am positive. Their doctrine would forbid any further returns, since they would be risking their own lives. After all, there are only 363 days left-at most-before the sun goes nova.

May 15,2190-I am deeply disturbed, hi fact, I am frightened. And the worst of it is, I,do not know of what. All I can do now is wait.

Yesterday, I left the Museum of Modern Astronautics for a preliminary tour of the world. I planned to spend two or three weeks hopping about in my flyball before I made any decision about where I would stay for the bulk of my year.

My first error was the choice of a first destination. Italy. It is very possible that, if my little problem had not come up, I would have spent eleven months there before going on with my preliminary survey. The Mediterranean is a dangerous and sticky body of water to anyone who has decided that, his own talents being inadequate or aborted, he may most fittingly spend his life cherishing the masterpieces presented to humanity by other, much more fortunate individuals.

I went to Ferrara first, since the marshy, reclaimed plain outside the city was a major Affirmer launching site. I lingered a little while at one of my favorite buildings, the Palazzo di Diamanti, shaking my head as helplessly as ever at the heavy building stones of which it is constructed and which are cut and faceted like so many enormous jewels. To my mind, the city itself is a jewel, now somewhat dulled, that sparkled madly in the days of the Este court. One little city, one tiny, arrogant court-I would so happily have traded them for the two billion steadfastly boorish Affirmers. Over sixty years of almost unchallenged political control, and did an entire planetful of them produce a single competitor for a Tasso or an Ariosto? And then I realized that at least one native Ferraran would have felt at ease in the world that has_ just departed from me, its last romantic. I remembered that Savonarola had been born in Ferrara

The plain outside Ferrara also reminded me of the dour Dominican. The launching field, stretching away for quite a few flat miles, was strewn with enough possessions discarded at the last moment, to make a truly towering Bonfire of Vanities.

But what pathetic vanities! Here, a slide rule that some ship's commander had ordered thrown out before takeoff because the last inspection had revealed it to be in excess of what the Ship-Classification Manual listed as the maximum number of slide rules necessary for a vessel of that size. There, a mimeographed collection of tally sheets that had been dropped out of the closing air lock after every last item had been checked off as per regulations-one check before the item by the Ministry of Survival and Preservation, and one check after the item by the Ministry of The Journey, Soiled clothing, somewhat worn implements, empty fuel and food drums lay about on the moist ground. Highly functional articles all, that had somehow come in the course of time to sin against function-and had fallen swiftly from use. And, surprisingly, an occasional doll, not looking very much like a doll, to be sure, buj not looking like anything that had an objective purpose either. Staring about me at the squalid debris dotted so rarely with sentiment, I wondered how many parents had writhed with shame when, despite their carefully repeated admonitions and advance warnings, the last search had discovered something in the recesses of a juvenile tunic that could only be called an old toy-or, worse yet, a keepsake.

I remembered what my recreational adviser had said on that subject, long years ago. "It's not that we believe that children shouldn't have toys, Fiyatil; we just don't want them to become attached to any particular toy. Our race is going to leave this planet that's been its home from the beginning.

We'll be able to take with us only such creatures and objects as are usable to make other creatures and objects which we'll need for sustenance wherever we come down. And because we can't carry more than so much weight in each ship, we'll have to select from among the usable objects those which are essential.

"We won't take anything along because it's pretty, or because a lot of people swear by it, or because a lot of people think they need it. We'll take it along only because nothing else will do an important job so well. That's why I come to your home every month or so to inspect your room, to make certain that your bureau drawers contain only new things, that you're not falling into dangerous habits of sentimentality that can lead only to Custodianism. You've got far too nice a set of folks to turn into that kind of person."

Nonetheless, I chuckled to myself, I had turned into that kind of person. Old Tobletej had been right: the first step on the road to ruin had been bureau drawers crammed with odds and ends of memory. The twig on which had sat the first butterfly I'd ever caught, the net with which I'd caught him, and the first butterfly himself. The wad of paper that a certain twelve-year-old lady had thrown at me. A tattered copy of a real printed book-no facsimile broadcast, this, but something that had once known the kiss of type instead of the hot breath of electrons. The small wooden model of Captain Karma's starship, Man's Hope, which an old spacehand at Lunar Line launching field had given me along with much misinformation

Those paunchy bureau drawers! How my parents and teachers had tried to teach me neatness and a hatred of possessions! And here was I, now grown into man's estate, smug over my possession of a quantity of artistic masterpieces the like of which no Holy Roman Emperor, no Grand Khan, would have dared to dream about.

I chuckled once more and started looking for the launching site robots. They were scattered about, almost invisible in the unimportant garbage of the spaceship field. After loading the ship, they had simply wandered about until they had run down. I activated them once more and set them to, cleaning the field.

This is something I will do in every one of the two hundred or so launching sites on Earth, and this is the chief reason I have been studying robotics. I want Earth to look as pretty as possible when she dies. I never could be an Affirmer, I am afraid; I form strong attachments.

Feeling as I did, I just couldn't continue on my trip without taking the quickest, the most cursory glance at Florence. Naturally.

But as I should have expected, I got drunk on oils and marble and metal work. Florence was empty of Florentines, but the glorious galleries were still there. I walked across the fine Ponte Vecchio, the only one of the famous Arno bridges to have escaped destruction in the Second World War. I came to Giotto's campanile and the baptistery doors by Ghiberti and I began to feel despair, desperation. I ran to the Church of Santa Croce to see Giotto's frescoes and the Convent of St. Mark's for Fra Angelico. What good was one year, what could I see of evert a single city like this in a bare twelve months? I could view, I could gallop by, but what would I have time to see? I was in the Boboli gardens trying frantically to decide whether to look up Michelangelo's "David" which I'd seen once before, or some Denatello which I hadn't, when the alarms went off.

Beth of them.

The day before I'd left, Fd put together a small anthro-pometer that had originally been developed for locating lost colonists in the Venusian swamps. It was based on an entirely different design than the big machine that I'd found in the Hall of Gadgets. Since the circuits were unlike, and they had been planned for use in entirely different atmospheres, I believed they would serve as excellent checks on each other. I'd set the alarms to the frequency of my flyball communicator and had left the museum fairly confident that the only thing that could make both anthropometers go off would be the presence of a man other than myself.

I flew back to the Museum, feeling very confused. Both pieces of equipment had responded the same way. The.alarm had gone off, indicating the sudden materialization of Man on the planet. Then, when the stimulus had disappeared, both alarms had stopped. No matter how many times I charged the directional dials on each anthropometer, there was not the faintest suspicion of mankind within their extreme range, which is a little under one-half of a light-year.

The initial confusion has given way to a strong feeling of discomfort. Something is very wrong here on Earth, something other than the sun's getting ready to explode in a year. Possibly I have the nontechnician's blind faith in a piece of apparatus which I don't fully understand, but I don't believe that the anthropometers should be acting this way unless something really abnormal is occurring.

It has pleased me to look upon this planet as an oceangoing ship about to sink, and myself as the gallant captain determined to go down with her. Abruptly, I feel as if the ship were beginning to act like a whale.

I know what I must do. I'll move a supply of food down to the Hall of Gadgets and sleep right under the anthropometers. The alarm usually lasts for a minute or two. I can leap to my feet, charge the all-directional dials and get enough of a reading right then to know exactly where the stimulus is coming from. Then I will pop into'my flyball and investigate. It's really very simple.

Only, I don't like it.

May 17, 2190-I feel thoroughly ashamed of myself, as only an old man who has been seeing ghosts in the graveyard should be ashamed. That, in fact, is the only excuse I can make to myself. I have, I suppose, been thinking too much about death recently. The coming extinction of Earth and the solar system; my death which is inevitably involved with it; the death of millions of creatures of uncounted species, the death of proud old cities that Man has reared and occupied for centuries__ Well, perhaps the association with ghosties and beasties and other strange phenomena is understandable. But I was getting frightened.

When the alarms went off again this morning, I got a directional reading. My destination was the Appalachian Mountain region in eastern North America.

The moment I got out of the flyball and took in the pale azure fog covering the cave mouth in front of me, I began to understand-and feel ashamed. Through the fog, which thinned in one place and thickened in others as I watched, I could see several bodies lying on the floor of the cave. Obviously, one of them had to be alive for the anthropometer to have reacted as soon as a patch of berrillit blue got meager enough to make the presence of a human mind detectable. I walked around to the back of the cave and found no exit.

I went back to the Museum in the flyball and returned with the necessary equipment. I deactivated the berrillit blue fog at the entrance and walked inside cautiously.

The interior of the cave, which had evidently been furnished as a domestic and comfortable hideout, was completely wrecked. Somebody had managed to get an activator as well as a quantity of berrillit blue which had not yet been given any particular shape and which, therefore, was about as stable as hydrogen and oxygen-if it is permissible to use a metaphor from chemistry to illustrate negative force-field concepts. The berrillit blue had been activated as a sort of curtain across the mouth of the eave and had blown up immediately. But, since the activator was still operating and the entrance was fairly narrow, it continued to function as a curtain of insulating negative force, a curtain which had holes in it through which one could occasionally "peek" by means of the anthropometer at the people imprisoned inside.

There were three bodies near the entrance, two male and one female, rather youthful-looking. From the quantity and type pf statuary on the walls of the cave, it was easy to deduce that these people had belonged to one of the numerous religious Custodian groups, probably the Fire in the Heavens cult. When, in the last week of the exodus, the Affirmers had denounced the Crohiik Agreement and stated that the Affirmation of Life required that even those who didn't Affirm had to be protected against themselves, these people had evidently taken to the mountains. Evading the subsequent highly effective search, they had managed to stay hidden until the last great vessel left. Then, suspecting as I had that at least one scout ship would return for a final round-up, they had investigated the properties, of the anthropometer and found out about the only insulator, berrillit blue. Unfortunately, they had not found out enough.

Deep in the rear of the cave, a body twisted brokenly to meet me. It was a young woman. My first reaction was absolute astonishment at the fact that she was still alive. The explosion seemed to have smashed her thoroughly below the waist. She had crawled from the cave mouth to the interior where the group had stored most of their food and water. As I teetered, momentarily undecided whether to leave her and get medication and blood plasma from a hospital in the region or to risk moving her immediately, she rolled over on her back.

She had been covering a year-old infant with her body, evidently uncertain when the berrillit might blow again. And somehow, in spite of what must have been tremendous agony, she had been feeding the child.

I bent down and examined the baby. He was quite dirty and covered with his mother's blood, but otherwise unharmed. I picked him up and, in answer to the question in the woman's eyes, I nodded.

"He'll be all right," I said.

She started what may have been a nod in reply and stopped halfway through to die. I examined her carefully and, I will admit, a shade frantically. There was no pulse-no heartbeat.

I took the child back to the Museum and constructed a sort of play pen for him out of empty telescope sections. Then I went back to the cave with three robots and had the people buried. I admit the gesture was superfluous, but it wasn't only a matter of neatness. However fundamental our differences, we were all of Custodian persuasion, generally speaking. It somehow made me feel as if I were snapping my fingers in the face of the entire smug Affirmation to respect Fire-in-Heaven eccentricities in this fashion.

After the robots had completed their work, I placed a piece of the religious statuary (it was remarkably badly done, by the way) at the head of each grave and even said a short prayer, or rather a sermon. I developed the thought that I had suggested approximately a week earlier to some deer- to wit, that in the midst of life we are in death. I did not joke about it, however, but spoke seriously on the subject for several minutes. The robots who were my audience seemed even less excited by the intelligence than the deer had been.

May 21, 2190-I am annoyed. I am very, very annoyed and my great problem at the moment is that I lack an object on which to expend my annoyance.

The child has been an incredible amount of trouble.

I took him to the largest medical museum in the northern hemisphere and had him thoroughly examined by the best pediatric diagnostic machinery, He seems to be in excellent health, which is fortunate for both of us. And his dietary requirements, while not the same as mine, are fairly simple. I got a full tape on the kind of food he needs and, after a few readjustments in the commissary of the Museum of Modern Astronautics, I have arranged for this food to be prepared and delivered to him daily. Unfortunately, he does not seem to regard this arrangement, which took up an inordinate amount of my time, as wholly satisfactory.

For one thing, he will not accept food from the regular robot nursemaid which I have activated for him. This, I suspect, is because of his parents' odd beliefs: he probably has never encountered mechanical affection before. He will only eat when I feed him.

That situation alone is intolerable, but I have found it almost impossible to leave him guarded by the robot nursemaid. Though he does little more than crawl, he manages to do this at surprisingly fast pace and is always disappearing into dark corridors of the museum. Then an alarm is flashed to me and I have to break off my examination of the gigantic palace of the Dalai Lama, the Potala, and come scudding back from Lhasa halfway across the world to the Museum.

Even then it would take us hours to find him-and by "us" I mean every robot at my disposal-if I were not able to resort to the anthropometer. This admirable gadget points out his hiding place very swiftly; and so, pulling him out of the firing chamber of the Space Howitzer in the Hall of Weapons, I return him to his play pen. Then, if I dare, and if it is not time for him to be fed, I may return-briefly-to the Tibetan plateau.

I am at present engaged in constructing a sort of enormous cage for him, with automatic heating and toilet facilities and devices that will screen out undesirable animals, insects, and reptiles. Though this is taking up far too much of my time, it will be an excellent investment, I believe.

I don't know quite what to do about the feeding problem. The only solution I can find in any of the literature on the subject that offers promise is the one about letting him go hungry if he refuses food from normal sources. After a brief experiment, however, in which he seemed cheerfully resigned to starvation, I was forced to give in. I now handle every one of his meals.

The trouble is that I don't know whom to blame. Since I have been a Custodian from early manhood, I failed to see the need to reproduce. I have never been interested even slightly in children. I know very little about them and care less.

I have always felt that my attitude was admirably summed up by Socrates' comments in the Symposium: "Who, upon reflecting on Homer and Hesiod and other such great poets, would not rather have their children than ordinary human ones? Who would not like to emulate them in the creation of children such as theirs, which have preserved their memory and given them everlasting glory? Many are the temples which have been raised in their honor for the sake of such children as they have had, which were never raised in honor of anyone for the sake of his mortal children."

Unfortunately, we are the only two humans alive on Earth, this child and I. We are going to our doom together; we ride the same round tumbril. And the treasures of the world, which were wholly mine less than a week ago, now belong at least partially to him. I wish we could discuss the matters at issue, not only to arrive at more equitable arrangements, but also for the sheer pleasure of the discussion. I have come to the conclusion that I began this journal out of unconscious terror when I discovered, after the Affirmers left, that I was completely alone.

I find myself getting very wistful for conversation, for ideas other than my own, for opinions against which mine might be measured. Yet according to the literature on the subject, while this child may begin talking any day now, we will be immersed in catastrophe long before he learns to argue with me. I find that sad, however inevitable.

How I wander! The fact is that once again I am being prevented from studying art as I would like". I am an old man and should have no responsibilities; I have all but laid down my life for the privilege of this study. It is extremely vexing.

And conversation. I can just imagine the kind of conversation I might be having with an Affirmer at the moment, were one to have been stranded here with me. What dullness, what single-minded biological idiocy! What crass refusal to look at, let alone admit, the beauty his species has been seventy millennia in the making! The most he might have learned if he is European, say, is a bit about the accepted artists of his culture. What would he know of Chinese paintings, for example, or cave art? Would he be able to understand that in each there were primitive periods followed by eras of lusty development, followed in turn by a consolidation of artistic gains and an increase in formalization, the whole to be rounded off by a decadent, inner-groping epoch which led almost invariably into another primitive and lusty period? That these have occurred again and again in the major cultures so that even the towering genius of a Michelangelo, a Shakespeare, a Beethoven will likely be repeated-in somewhat different terms-in another complete cycle? That there was a Michelangelo, Shakespeare, and Beethoven in each of several different flower periods in ancient Egyptian art? '

How, could an Affirmer understand such concepts when he lacks the basic information necessary to understanding? When their ships departed from the moribund solar system laden only with immediately usable artifacts? When they refused to let their offspring keep childhood treasures for fear of developing sentimentality, so that when they came to colonize Procyon XII there would be no tears for either the world that had died or the puppy that had been left behind?

And yet history plays such incredible jokes on Man! They who ran away from their museums, who kept nothing but a cold microfilm record of what lay in their investment houses of culture, will learn that Man's sentimentality is not to be frustrated. The bleak, efficient ships that brought them to these alien worlds will become museums of the past as they oxidize out of existence on the strange sands. Their cruelly functional lines will become the inspiration for temples and alcoholic tears.

What in the world is happening to me? How I run on! After all, I merely wanted to explain why I was annoyed.

May 29, 2190-I have made several decisions, I don't know if I will be able to implement the most important of them, but I will try. In order, however, to give myself what I need most at the moment-time-I will write much less in this journal, if I write any more at all. I will try very hard to be brief.

To begin with the least important decision: I have named the child Leonardo. Why I chose to name him after a man who, for all of his talents-in fact, because of his talents-I regard as the most spectacular failure in the history of art, I do not know. But Leonardo was a well-rounded man, something which the Affirmers are not-and something which I am beginning to admit I am not.

By the way, the child recognizes his name. He is not yet able to pronounce it, but it is positively miraculous the way he recognizes it. And he makes a sound which is very like mine. In fact, I might say-

Let me go on.

I have decided to attempt an escape from the Earth-with Leonardo. My reasons are many and complex, and I'm not certain that I understand them all, but one thing I do know: I have felt responsibility for a life other than my own and can no longer evade it.

This is not a tardy emergence into Affirmer doctrine, but in a very real sense my own ideas come to judgment. Since I believe in the reality of beauty, especially beauty made with the mind and hands of man, I can follow no other course.

I am an old man and will achieve little with the rest of my life. Leonardo is an infant: he represents raw potential; he might become anything. A song beyond Shakespeare's. A thought above Newton, above Einstein. Or an evil beyond Gilles de Retz, a horror past Hitler.

But the potential should be realized. I think, under my tutelage, it is less likely to be evil and there I have a potential to be realized.

In any case, even if Leonardo represents a zero personally, he may carry the germ-plasm of a Buddha, of a Euripides, of a Preud. And that potential must be realized

There is a ship. Its name is Man's Hope and it was the first ship to reach the stars, almost a century ago when it had just been discovered that our sun would explode and become a nova in a little less than a hundred years. It was the ship that discovered for Man the heart-quickening fact that other stars have planets and that many of those planets are habitable to him.

It was a long time ago that Captain Karma brought his starship back down on the soil of Earth with the news that escape was possible. That was long before I was born, long before humanity divided unequally into Custodian and Affirmer and long, long before either group were the unwinking fanatics they had become five years ago.

The ship is in the Museum of Modern Astronautics. I know it has been kept in good condition, I also know that twenty years ago, before the Affirmers had developed the position that absolutely nothing might be taken physically from a museum, the ship was equipped with the latest Leugio Drive. The motive was that, if it were needed on Exodus Day, it might make the trip to a star in months instead of the years it had required originally.

The only thing that I do not know is whether I, Fiyatil, the Custodian of Custodians and art critic extraordinary, can learn to run it in the time that Leonardo and I have left.

But as one of my favorite comic characters remarked about the possibility of a man chopping his own head off: a man can try

There is something else on my mind, even more exciting in a way, but this comes first. I find myself looking at the Sun a good deal these days. And very searchingly, too. Very.

November 11, 2190-1 can do it With the help of two robots which I will modify for the purpose, I can do it. Leonardo and I could leave immediately. But I have my other project to complete.

And this is my other project. I am going to use all the empty space in the ship. It was built originally for different motors and a very large crew, and I am going to use that space as a bureau drawer. Into that bureau drawer I will stuff the keepsakes of humanity, the treasures of its childhood and adolescence-at least as many as I can get in.

For weeks I have been collecting treasures from all over the world. Incredible pottery, breath-taking friezes, glorious statuary, and oil paintings almost beyond counting litter the corridors of the museum. Brueghel is piled on Bosch, Bosch on Durer, I am going to, bring a little of everything to that star toward which I point my ship, a little to show what the real things were like. I am including things like the holograph manuscripts of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Gogol's Dead Souls, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, and holographs of Dickens's tetters and Lincoln's speeches. There are many others, but I cannot take everything. Within responsible limits, I must please myself.

Therefore, I am not taking anything from the Sistine

Chapel ceiling. I have carved out two bits of the "Last Judgment" instead. They are my favorites: the soul that suddenly realizes that it is condemned, and the flayed skin on which Michelangelo painted his own portrait.

The only trouble is that fresco weighs so much! Weight, weight, weight-it is almost all I think about now. Even Leonardo follows me about and says "Weight, weight, weight!" He pronounces nothing else so well.

Still, what should I take of Picasso? A handful of oils, yes, but I must take the "Guernica." And there is more weight.

I have some wonderful Russian copper utensils and some Ming bronze bowls. I have a lime spatula from Eastern New Guinea made of oiled wood that has a delightfully carved handle (it was used in chewing betel nut and lime). I have a wonderful alabaster figure of a cow from ancient Sumer. I have an incredible silver Buddha from northern India. I have some Dahomean brass figures of a grace to shame Egypt and Greece. I have a carved ivory container from Benin, West Africa, showing a thoroughly Fifteenth Century European Christ on the cross. I have the "Venus" of Willendorf, Austria, the figure that was carved in the Aurignacian epoch of the paleolithic and which is part of the artistic tradition of the "Venus" art of prehistoric mankind.

I have miniatures by Hilliard and Holbein, satiric prints by Hogarth, a beautiful Kangra painting of the eighteenth century on paper that shows astonishingly little Mughal influence, Japanese prints by Takamaru and Hiroshige-and where may I stop? How may I choose?

I have pages from the Book of Kells, which is an illuminated hand-executed manuscript of almost unmatched beauty; and I have pages from the Gutenberg Bible, put together in the infancy of printing, which has illuminated pages to give the effect of a hand-copied manuscript, because the printers didn't want their invention discovered. I have a tughra of Sulaiman the Magnificent, a calligraphic emblem that formed headings for his imperial edicts; and I have a Hebrew Scroll of the Law whose calligraphy outshines the jewels which encrust the poles on which it is wound.

I have Coptic textiles of the sixth century and Alencon lace of the sixteenth. I have a magnificent red krater vase from one of Athens' maritime colonies and a wooden figurehead of a minister from a New England frigate. I have a Rubens nude and an Odalisque by Matisse.

In architecture-I am taking the Chinese Compendium of Architecture which I think has never been equaled as a text and a model of a Le Corbusier house built by him. I would love to take one building, the Taj Mahal, but I am taking the pearl that the Mogul gave to her for whom he built the ineffable tomb. It is a reddish pearl, shaped like a pear and about three and a half inches long; shortly after it was buried with her, it turned up in the possession of an Emperor of China who set it on gold leaves and surrounded it with jade and emeralds. At the turn of the nineteenth century, it was sold somewhere in the Near East for a tiny, ridiculous sum and ended in the Louvre.

And a tool: a small stone fistaxe, the first think known to have been made by human creatures.

All this I have collected near the ship. But I've sorted none of it. And I suddenly remember, I have collected as yet no furniture, no decorated weapons, no etched glass-

I must hurry, hurry!

November 2190-Shortly after I finished the-last entry, I glanced upward. There were green specks on the sun and strange orange streamers seemed to plume out to all points of the compass. Evidently there was not to be a year. These were the symptoms of death that the astronomers had predicted.

So there was an end to my collecting-and my sorting was done in less than a day. The one thing I suddenly found I had to do, when it became obvious that my sections of Michelangelo would be too heavy, was to go to the Sistine Chapel ceiling after all. This time I cat out a relatively tiny thing- the finger of the Creation as it stabs life into Adam. And I decided to take Da Vinci's "La Gioconda," even though his "Beatrice d'Este" is more to my taste: the Mona Lisa's smile belongs to the world.

All posters are represented by one Toulouse-Lautrec. I dropped the "Guernica"; Picasso is represented instead by an oil from his blue period and a single striking ceramic plate. I dropped Harold Paris's "The Eternal Judgment" because of its bulk; all I have of his now is the print Buchenwald #2, "Where Are We Going?" And somehow or other, in my last-minute haste, I seem to have selected a large number of Safavid bottles from Iran of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Let future historians and psychologists puzzle out the reasons for my choices: they are now irrevocable.

We are proceeding toward Alpha Centauri and should arrive in five months. How will we and all our treasures be received, I wonder? I suddenly feel insanely cheerful. I don't think it has anything to do with my rather belated realization that I, who have so little talent and have failed so miserably in the arts, will achieve a place in the history of art like no other man-a kind of esthetic Noah.

No, it is the fact that I am carrying both the future and the past to a rendezvous where they still have a chance to come to terms. A moment ago Leonardo bounced a ball against the visiplate and, looking at it, I observed that old Sol was expanding apoplectically. As I remarked to him then: "I find, to my astonishment, that in the midst of death, I am- at last, at last!-truly in life."

Judgement Day by Lloyd Biggle, Jr. | Catastrophes! | Phoenix by Clark Ashton Smith