- Author: Stanley G. Weinbaum
Read book online «Pygmalion's Spectacles by Stanley G. Weinbaum (most popular novels TXT) 📕». Author - Stanley G. Weinbaum
This etext was produced from A Martian Odyssey and Others published in 1949. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and typographical errors have been corrected without note. PYGMALION'S SPECTACLES
"But what is reality?" asked the gnomelike man. He gestured at the tall banks of buildings that loomed around Central Park, with their countless windows glowing like the cave fires of a city of Cro-Magnon people. "All is dream, all is illusion; I am your vision as you are mine."
Dan Burke, struggling for clarity of thought through the fumes of liquor, stared without comprehension at the tiny figure of his companion. He began to regret the impulse that had driven him to leave the party to seek fresh air in the park, and to fall by chance into the company of this diminutive old madman. But he had needed escape; this was one party too many, and not even the presence of Claire with her trim ankles could hold him there. He felt an angry desire to go home—not to his hotel, but home to Chicago and to the comparative peace of the Board of Trade. But he was leaving tomorrow anyway.
"You drink," said the elfin, bearded face, "to make real a dream. Is it not so? Either to dream that what you seek is yours, or else to dream that what you hate is conquered. You drink to escape reality, and the irony is that even reality is a dream."
"Cracked!" thought Dan again.
"Or so," concluded the other, "says the philosopher Berkeley."
"Berkeley?" echoed Dan. His head was clearing; memories of a Sophomore course in Elementary Philosophy drifted back. "Bishop Berkeley, eh?"
"You know him, then? The philosopher of Idealism—no?—the one who argues that we do not see, feel, hear, taste the object, but that we have only the sensation of seeing, feeling, hearing, tasting."
"I—sort of recall it."
"Hah! But sensations are mental phenomena. They exist in our minds. How, then, do we know that the objects themselves do not exist only in our minds?" He waved again at the light-flecked buildings. "You do not see that wall of masonry; you perceive only a sensation, a feeling of sight. The rest you interpret."
"You see the same thing," retorted Dan.
"How do you know I do? Even if you knew that what I call red would not be green could you see through my eyes—even if you knew that, how do you know that I too am not a dream of yours?"
Dan laughed. "Of course nobody knows anything. You just get what information you can through the windows of your five senses, and then make your guesses. When they're wrong, you pay the penalty." His mind was clear now save for a mild headache. "Listen," he said suddenly. "You can argue a reality away to an illusion; that's easy. But if your friend Berkeley is right, why can't you take a dream and make it real? If it works one way, it must work the other."
The beard waggled; elf-bright eyes glittered queerly at him. "All artists do that," said the old man softly. Dan felt that something more quivered on the verge of utterance.
"That's an evasion," he grunted. "Anybody can tell the difference between a picture and the real thing, or between a movie and life."
"But," whispered the other, "the realer the better, no? And if one could make a—a movie—very real indeed, what would you say then?"
"Nobody can, though."
The eyes glittered strangely again. "I can!" he whispered. "I did!"
"Made real a dream." The voice turned angry. "Fools! I bring it here to sell to Westman, the camera people, and what do they say? 'It isn't clear. Only one person can use it at a time. It's too expensive.' Fools! Fools!"
"Listen! I'm Albert Ludwig—Professor Ludwig." As Dan was silent, he continued, "It means nothing to you, eh? But listen—a movie that gives one sight and sound. Suppose now I add taste, smell, even touch, if your interest is taken by the story. Suppose I make it so that you are in the story, you speak to the shadows, and the shadows reply, and instead of being on a screen, the story is all about you, and you are in it. Would that be to make real a dream?"
"How the devil could you do that?"
"How? How? But simply! First my liquid positive, then my magic spectacles. I photograph the story in a liquid with light-sensitive chromates. I build up a complex solution—do you see? I add taste chemically and sound electrically. And when the story is recorded, then I put the solution in my spectacle—my movie projector. I electrolyze the solution, break it down; the older chromates go first, and out comes the story, sight, sound, smell, taste—all!"
"If your interest is taken, your mind supplies that." Eagerness crept into his voice. "You will look at it, Mr.——?"
"Burke," said Dan. "A swindle!" he thought. Then a spark of recklessness glowed out of the vanishing fumes of alcohol. "Why not?" he grunted.
He rose; Ludwig, standing, came scarcely to his shoulder. A queer gnomelike old man, Dan thought as he followed him across the park and into one of the scores of apartment hotels in the vicinity.
In his room Ludwig fumbled in a bag, producing a device vaguely reminiscent of a gas mask. There were goggles and a rubber mouthpiece; Dan examined it curiously, while the little bearded professor brandished a bottle of watery liquid.
"Here it is!" he gloated. "My liquid positive, the story. Hard photography—infernally hard, therefore the simplest story. A Utopia—just two characters and you, the audience. Now, put the spectacles on. Put them on and tell me what fools the Westman people are!" He decanted some of the liquid into the mask, and trailed a twisted wire to a device on the table. "A rectifier," he explained. "For the electrolysis."
"Must you use all the liquid?" asked Dan. "If you use part, do you see only part of the story? And which part?"
"Every drop has all of it, but you must fill the eye-pieces." Then as Dan slipped the device gingerly on, "So! Now what do you see?"
"Not a damn' thing. Just the windows and the lights across the street."
"Of course. But now I start the electrolysis. Now!"
There was a moment of chaos. The liquid before Dan's eyes clouded suddenly white, and formless sounds buzzed. He moved to tear the device from his head, but emerging forms in the mistiness caught his interest. Giant things were writhing there.
The scene steadied; the whiteness was dissipating like mist in summer. Unbelieving, still gripping the arms of that unseen chair, he was staring at a forest. But what a forest! Incredible, unearthly, beautiful! Smooth boles ascended inconceivably toward a brightening sky, trees bizarre as the forests of the Carboniferous age. Infinitely overhead swayed misty fronds, and the verdure showed brown and green in the heights. And there were birds—at least, curiously lovely pipings and twitterings were all about him though he saw no creatures—thin elfin whistlings like fairy bugles sounded softly.
He sat frozen, entranced. A louder fragment of melody drifted down to him, mounting in exquisite, ecstatic bursts, now clear as sounding metal, now soft as remembered music. For a moment he forgot the chair whose arms he gripped, the miserable hotel room invisibly about him, old Ludwig, his aching head. He imagined himself alone in the midst of that lovely glade. "Eden!" he muttered, and the swelling music of unseen voices answered.
Some measure of reason returned. "Illusion!" he told himself. Clever optical devices, not reality. He groped for the chair's arm, found it, and clung to it; he scraped his feet and found again an inconsistency. To his eyes the ground was mossy verdure; to his touch it was merely a thin hotel carpet.
The elfin buglings sounded gently. A faint, deliciously sweet perfume breathed against him; he glanced up to watch the opening of a great crimson blossom on the nearest tree, and a tiny reddish sun edged into the circle of sky above him. The fairy orchestra swelled louder in its light, and the notes sent a thrill of wistfulness through him. Illusion? If it were, it made reality almost unbearable; he wanted to believe that somewhere—somewhere this side of dreams, there actually existed this region of loveliness. An outpost of Paradise? Perhaps.
And then—far through the softening mists, he caught a movement that was not the swaying of verdure, a shimmer of silver more solid than mist. Something approached. He watched the figure as it moved, now visible, now hidden by trees; very soon he perceived that it was human, but it was almost upon him before he realized that it was a girl.
She wore a robe of silvery, half-translucent stuff, luminous as starbeams; a thin band of silver bound glowing black hair about her forehead, and other garment or ornament she had none. Her tiny white feet were bare to the mossy forest floor as she stood no more than a pace from him, staring dark-eyed. The thin music sounded again; she smiled.
Dan summoned stumbling thoughts. Was this being also—illusion? Had she no more reality than the loveliness of the forest? He opened his lips to speak, but a strained excited voice sounded in his ears. "Who are you?" Had he spoken? The voice had come as if from another, like the sound of one's words in fever.
The girl smiled again. "English!" she said in queer soft tones. "I can speak a little English." She spoke slowly, carefully. "I learned it from"—she hesitated—"my mother's father, whom they call the Grey Weaver."
Again came the voice in Dan's ears. "Who are you?"
"I am called Galatea," she said. "I came to find you."
"To find me?" echoed the voice that was Dan's.
"Leucon, who is called the Grey Weaver, told me," she explained smiling. "He said you will stay with us until the second noon from this." She cast a quick slanting glance at the pale sun now full above the clearing, then stepped closer. "What are you called?"
"Dan," he muttered. His voice sounded oddly different.
"What a strange name!" said the girl. She stretched out her bare arm. "Come," she smiled.
Dan touched her extended hand, feeling without any surprise the living warmth of her fingers. He had forgotten the paradoxes of illusion; this was no longer illusion to him, but reality itself. It seemed to him that he followed her, walking over the shadowed turf that gave with springy crunch beneath his tread, though Galatea left hardly an imprint. He glanced down, noting that he himself wore a silver garment, and that his feet were bare; with the glance he felt a feathery breeze on his body and a sense of mossy earth on his feet.
"Galatea," said his voice. "Galatea, what place is this? What language do you speak?"
She glanced back laughing. "Why, this is Paracosma, of course, and this is our language."
"Paracosma," muttered Dan. "Para—cosma!" A fragment of Greek that had survived somehow from a Sophomore course a decade in the past came strangely back to him. Paracosma! Land-beyond-the-world!
Galatea cast a smiling glance at him. "Does the real world seem strange," she queried, "after that shadow land of yours?"
"Shadow land?" echoed Dan, bewildered. "This is shadow, not my world."
The girl's smile turned quizzical. "Poof!" she retorted with an impudently lovely pout. "And I suppose, then, that I am the phantom instead of you!" She laughed. "Do I seem ghostlike?"
Dan made no reply; he was puzzling over unanswerable questions as he trod behind the lithe figure of his guide. The aisle between the unearthly trees widened, and the giants were fewer. It seemed a mile, perhaps, before a sound of tinkling water obscured that other strange music; they emerged on the bank of a little river, swift and crystalline, that rippled and gurgled its way from glowing pool to flashing rapids, sparkling under the pale sun. Galatea bent over the brink and cupped her hands, raising a few mouthfuls of water to her lips; Dan followed her example, finding the liquid stinging cold.
"How do we cross?" he asked.
"You can wade up there,"—the dryad who led him gestured to a sun-lit shallows above a tiny falls—"but I always cross here." She poised herself for a moment on the green bank, then dove like a silver arrow into the pool. Dan followed; the water stung his body like champagne, but a stroke or two carried him across to where Galatea had already emerged with a glistening of creamy bare limbs. Her garment clung tight as a metal sheath to her wet body; he felt a breath-taking thrill at the sight of her. And then, miraculously, the silver cloth was dry, the droplets rolled off as if from oiled silk, and they moved briskly on.
The incredible forest had ended with the river; they walked over a meadow studded with little, many-hued, star-shaped flowers, whose fronds underfoot were soft as a lawn. Yet still the sweet