Astounding Stories of Super-Science September 1930 online

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_Painted in Water-Colors from a Scene in "Marooned Under the Sea."_

_The Delivery of His Country into the Clutches of a Merciless,
Ultra-Modern Religion Can Be Prevented Only by Dr. Hagstrom's
Deciphering an Extraordinary Code._

_Fantastic and Sinister Are the Lowlands into Which Philip Grant Descends
on His Dangerous Assignment._ (Beginning a Three-Part Novel.)

_Commander John Hanson of the Special Patrol Service Records Another of
His Thrilling Interplanetary Assignments._

_Three Men Stick Out a Strange and Desperate Adventure Among the
Incredible Monsters of the Dark Sea Floor._ (A Complete Novelette.)

_Four Lives Lay Helpless Before the Murder Machine, the Uncanny Device by
Which Hypnotic Thought Waves Are Filtered Through Men's Minds to Mold
Them Into Murdering Tools._

_From a Far World Came Monstrous Invaders Who Were All the More
Terrifying Because Invisible._

_Martian Fire-Balls and the Terrific Moon-Cubes Wreak Tremendous
Destruction on Helpless Earth in the Final Death Struggle of the Warring
Worlds._ (Conclusion.)

_A Meeting Place for Readers of Astounding Stories._

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[Illustration: I saw the famous Science Temple with its constant stream
of worshippers.]

A Problem in Communication

_By Miles J. Breuer, M.D._


_The Science Community_

(This part is related by Peter Hagstrom, Ph.D.)

"The ability to communicate ideas from one individual to another," said
a professor of sociology to his class, "is the principal distinction
between human beings and their brute forbears. The increase and
refinement of this ability to communicate is an index of the degree of
civilization of a people. The more civilized a people, the more perfect
their ability to communicate, especially under difficulties and in

[Sidenote: _The delivery of his country into the clutches of a
merciless, ultra-modern religion can be prevented only by Dr. Hagstrom's
deciphering an extraordinary code._]

As usual, the observation burst harmlessly over the heads of most of the
students in the class, who were preoccupied with more immediate
things - with the evening's movies and the week-end's dance. But upon two
young men in the class, it made a powerful impression. It crystallized
within them certain vague conceptions and brought them to a conscious
focus, enabling the young men to turn formless dreams into concrete
acts. That is why I take the position that the above enthusiastic words
of this sociology professor, whose very name I have forgotten, were the
prime moving influence which many years later succeeded in saving
Occidental civilization from a catastrophe which would have been worse
than death and destruction.

* * * * *

One of these young men was myself, and the other was my lifelong friend
and chum, Carl Benda, who saved his country by solving a tremendously
difficult scientific puzzle in a simple way, by sheer reasoning power,
and without apparatus. The sociology professor struck a responsive chord
in us: for since our earliest years we had wigwagged to each other as
Boy Scouts, learned the finger alphabet of the deaf and dumb so that we
might maintain communication during school hours, strung a telegraph
wire between our two homes, admired Poe's "Gold Bug" together and
devised boyish cipher codes in which to send each other postcards when
chance separated us. But we had always felt a little foolish about what
we considered our childish hobbies, until the professor's words suddenly
roused us to the realization that we were a highly civilized pair of

Not only did we then and there cease feeling guilty about our secret
ciphers and our dots and dashes, but the determination was born within
us to make of communication our life's work. It turned out that both of
us actually did devote our lives to the cause of communication; but the
passing years saw us engaged in widely and curiously divergent phases of
the work. Thirty years later, I was Professor of the Psychology of
Language at Columbia University, and Benda was Maintenance Engineer of
the Bell Telephone Company of New York City; and on his knowledge and
skill depended the continuity and stability of that stupendously complex
traffic, the telephone communication of Greater New York.

* * * * *

Since our ambitious cravings were satisfied in our everyday work, and
since now ordinarily available methods of communication sufficed our
needs, we no longer felt impelled to signal across the house-tops with
semaphores nor to devise ciphers that would defy solution. But we still
kept up our intimate friendship and our intense interest in our beloved
subject. We were just as close chums at the age of fifty as we had been
at ten, and just as thrilled at new advances in communication: at
television, at the international language, at the supposed signals from

That was the state of affairs between us up to a year ago. At about that
time Benda resigned his position with the New York Bell Telephone
Company to accept a place as the Director of Communication in the
Science Community. This, for many reasons, was a most amazing piece of
news to myself and to anyone who knew Benda.

Of course, it was commonly known that Benda was being sought by
Universities and corporations: I know personally of several tempting
offers he had received. But the New York Bell is a wealthy corporation
and had thus far managed to hold Benda, both by the munificence of its
salary and by the attractiveness of the work it offered him. That the
Science Community would want Benda was easy to understand; but, that it
could outbid the New York Bell, was, to say the least, a surprise.

Furthermore, that a man like Benda would want to have anything at all to
do with the Science Community seemed strange enough in itself. He had
the most practical common sense - well-balanced habits of thinking and
living, supported by an intellect so clear and so keen that I knew of
none to excel it. What the Science Community was, no one knew exactly;
but that there was something abnormal, fanatical, about it, no one

* * * * *

The Science Community, situated in Virginia, in the foothills of the
Blue Ridge, had first been heard of many years ago, when it was already
a going concern. At the time of which I now speak, the novelty had worn
off, and no one paid any more attention to it than they do to Zion City
or the Dunkards. By this time, the Science Community was a city of a
million inhabitants, with a vast outlying area of farms and gardens. It
was modern to the highest degree in construction and operation; there
was very little manual labor there; no poverty; every person had all the
benefits of modern developments in power, transportation, and
communication, and of all other resources provided by scientific

So much, visitors and reporters were able to say.

The rumors that it was a vast socialistic organization, without private
property, with equal sharing of all privileges, were never confirmed. It
is a curious observation that it was possible, in this country of ours,
for a city to exist about which we knew so little. However, it seemed
evident from the vast number and elaboration of public buildings, the
perfection of community utilities such as transportation, streets,
lighting, and communication, from the absence of individual homes and
the housing of people in huge dormitories, that some different, less
individualistic type of social organization than ours was involved. It
was obvious that as an organization, the Science Community must also be
wealthy. If any of its individual citizens were wealthy, no one knew it.

I knew Benda as well as I knew myself, and if I was sure of anything in
my life, it was that he was not the type of man to leave a fifty
thousand dollar job and join a communist city on an equal footing with
the clerks in the stores. As it happens, I was also intimately
acquainted with John Edgewater Smith, recently Power Commissioner of New
York City and the most capable power engineer in North America, who,
following Benda by two or three months, resigned his position, and
accepted what his letter termed the place of Director of Power in the
Science Community. I was personally in a position to state that neither
of these men could be lightly persuaded into such a step, and that
neither of them would work for a small salary.

* * * * *

Benda's first letter to me stated that he was at the Science Community
on a visit. He had heard of the place, and while at Washington on
business had taken advantage of the opportunity to drive out and see it.
Fascinated by the equipment he saw there, he had decided to stay a few
days and study it. The next letter announced his acceptance of the
position. I would give a month's salary to get a look at those letters
now; but I neglected to preserve them. I should like to see them because
I am curious as to whether they exhibit the characteristics of the
subsequent letters, some of which I now have.

As I have stated, Benda and I had been on the most intimate terms for
forty years. His letters had always been crisp and direct, and
thoroughly familiar and confidential. I do not know just how many
letters I received from him from the Science Community before I noted
the difference, but I have one from the third month of his stay there
(he wrote every two or three weeks), characterized by a verbosity that
sounded strange for him. He seemed to be writing merely to cover the
sheet, trifles such as he had never previously considered worth writing
letters about. Four pages of letter conveyed not a single idea. Yet
Benda was, if anything, a man of ideas.

There followed several months of letters like that: a lot of words,
evasion of coming to the point about anything; just conventional
letters. Benda was the last man to write a conventional letter. Yet, it
was Benda writing them: gruff little expressions of his, clear ways of
looking at even the veriest trifles, little allusion to our common past:
these things could neither have been written by anyone else, nor written
under compulsion from without. Something had changed Benda.

* * * * *

I pondered on it a good deal, and could think of no hypothesis to
account for it. In the meanwhile, New York City lost a third technical
man to the Science Community. Donald Francisco, Commissioner of the
Water Supply, a sanitary engineer of international standing, accepted a
position in the Science Community as Water Director. I did not know
whether to laugh and compare it to the National Baseball League's
trafficking in "big names," or to hunt for some sinister danger sign in
it. But, as a result of my ponderings, I decided to visit Benda at The
Science Community.

I wrote him to that effect, and almost decided to change my mind about
the visit because of the cold evasiveness of the reply I received from
him. My first impulse on reading his indifferent, lackadaisical comment
on my proposed visit was to feel offended, and determine to let him
alone and never see him again. The average man would have done that, but
my long years of training in psychological interpretation told me that a
character and a friendship built during forty years does not change in
six months, and that there must be some other explanation for this. I
wrote him that I was coming. I found that the best way to reach the
Science Community was to take a bus out from Washington. It involved a
drive of about fifty miles northwest, through a picturesque section of
the country. The latter part of the drive took me past settlements that
looked as though they might be in about the same stage of progress as
they had been during the American Revolution. The city of my destination
was back in the hills, and very much isolated. During the last ten miles
we met no traffic at all, and I was the only passenger left in the bus.
Suddenly the vehicle stopped.

"Far as we go!" the driver shouted.

I looked about in consternation. All around were low, wild-looking
hills. The road went on ahead through a narrow pass.

"They'll pick you up in a little bit," the driver said as he turned
around and drove off, leaving me standing there with my bag, very much
astonished at it all.

* * * * *

He was right. A small, neat-looking bus drove through the pass and
stopped for me. As I got in, the driver mechanically turned around and
drove into the hills again.

"They took up my ticket on the other bus," I said to the driver. "What
do I owe you?"

"Nothing," he said curtly. "Fill that out." He handed me a card.

An impertinent thing, that card was. Besides asking for my name,
address, nationality, vocation, and position, it requested that I state
whom I was visiting in the Science Community, the purpose of my visit,
the nature of my business, how long I intended to stay, did I have a
place to stay arranged for, and if so, where and through whom. It looked
for all the world as though they had something to conceal; Czarist
Russia couldn't beat that for keeping track of people and prying into
their business. Sign here, the card said.

It annoyed me, but I filled it out, and, by the time I was through, the
bus was out of the hills, traveling up the valley of a small river; I am
not familiar enough with northern Virginia to say which river it was.
There was much machinery and a few people in the broad fields. In the
distance ahead was a mass of chimneys and the cupolas of iron-works, but
no smoke.

There were power-line towers with high-tension insulators, and, far
ahead, the masses of huge elevators and big, square buildings. Soon I
came in sight of a veritable forest of huge windmills.

In a few moments, the huge buildings loomed up over me; the bus entered
a street of the city abruptly from the country. One moment on a country
road, the next moment among towering buildings. We sped along swiftly
through a busy metropolis, bright, airy, efficient looking. The traffic
was dense but quiet, and I was confident that most of the vehicles were
electric; for there was no noise nor gasoline odor. Nor was there any
smoke. Things looked airy, comfortable, efficient; but rather
monotonous, dull. There was a total lack of architectural interest. The
buildings were just square blocks, like neat rows of neat boxes. But, it
all moved smoothly, quietly, with wonderful efficiency.

* * * * *

My first thought was to look closely at the people who swarmed the
streets of this strange city. Their faces were solemn, and their clothes
were solemn. All seemed intently busy, going somewhere, or doing
something; there was no standing about, no idle sauntering. And look
whichever way I might, everywhere there was the same blue serge, on men
and women alike, in all directions, as far as I could see.

The bus stopped before a neat, square building of rather smaller size,
and the next thing I knew, Benda was running down the steps to meet me.
He was his old gruff, enthusiastic self.

"Glad to see you, Hagstrom, old socks!" he shouted, and gripped my hand
with two of his. "I've arranged for a room for you, and we'll have a
good old visit, and I'll show you around this town."

I looked at him closely. He looked healthy and well cared-for, all
except for a couple of new lines of worry on his face. Undoubtedly that
worn look meant some sort of trouble.


_The New Religion_

(This part is interpolated by the author into Dr. Hagstrom's narrative.)

Every great religion has as its psychological reason for existence the
mission of compensating for some crying, unsatisfied human need.
Christianity spread and grew among people who were, at the time,
persecuted subjects or slaves of Rome; and it flourished through the
Middle Ages at a time when life held for the individual chiefly pain,
uncertainty, and bereavement. Christianity kept the common man consoled
and mentally balanced by minimizing the importance of life on earth and
offering compensation afterwards and elsewhere.

A feeble nation of idle dreamers, torn by a chaos of intertribal feuds
within, menaced by powerful, conquest-lusting nations from without,
Arabia was enabled by Islam, the religion of her prophet Mohammed, to
unite all her sons into an intense loyalty to one cause, and to turn her
dream-stuff into reality by carrying her national pride and honor beyond
her boundaries and spreading it over half the known world.

The ancient Greeks, in despair over the frailties of human emotion and
the unbecomingness of worldly conduct, which their brilliant minds
enabled them to recognize clearly but which they found themselves
powerless to subdue, endowed the gods, whom they worshipped, with all of
their own passions and weaknesses, and thus the foolish behavior of the
gods consoled them for their own obvious shortcomings. So it goes
throughout all of the world's religions.

In the middle of the twentieth century there were in the civilized
world, millions of people in whose lives Christianity had ceased to play
any part. Yet, psychically - remember, "psyche" means "soul" - they were
just as sick and unbalanced, just as much in need of some compensation
as were the subjects of the early Roman empire, or the Arabs in the
Middle Ages. They were forced to work at the strained and monotonous
pace of machines; they were the slaves, body and soul, of machines; they
lived with machines and lived like machines - they were expected to _be_
machines. A mechanized mode of life set a relentless pace for them,
while, just as in all the past ages, life and love, the breezes and the
blue sky called to them; but they could not respond. They had to drive
machines so that machines could serve them. Minds were cramped and
emotions were starved, but hands must go on guiding levers and keeping
machines in operation. Lives were reduced to such a mechanical routine
that men wondered how long human minds and human bodies could stand the
restraint. There is a good deal in the writings of the times to show
that life was becoming almost unbearable for three-fourths of humanity.

* * * * *

It is only natural, therefore, that Rohan, the prophet of the new
religion, found followers more rapidly than he could organize them.
About ten years before the visit of Dr. Hagstrom to his friend Benda,
Rohan and his new religion had been much in the newspapers. Rohan was a
Slovak, apparently well educated in Europe. When he first attracted
attention to himself, he was foreman in a steel plant at Birmingham,
Alabama. He was popular as an orator, and drew unheard-of crowds to his

He preached of _Science_ as God, an all-pervading, inexorably systematic
Being, the true Center and Motive-Power of the Universe; a Being who saw
men and pitied them because they could not help committing inaccuracies.
The Science God was helping man become more perfect. Even now, men were
much more accurate and systematic than they had been a hundred years
ago; men's lives were ordered and rhythmic, like natural laws, not like
the chaotic emotions of beasts and savages.

Somehow, he soon dropped out of the attention of the great mass of the
public. Of course, he did so intentionally, when his ideas began to
crystallize and his plans for his future organization began to form. At
first he had a sort of church in Birmingham, called The Church of the
Scientific God. There never was anything cheap nor blatant about him.
When he moved his church from Birmingham to the Lovett Branch Valley in
northern Virginia, he was hardly noticed. But with him went seven
thousand people, to form the nucleus of the Science Community.

* * * * *

Since then, some feature writer for a metropolitan Sunday paper has
occasionally written up the Science Community, both from its physical
and its human aspects. From these reports, the outstanding bit of
evidence is that Rohan believes intensely in his own religion, and that
his followers are all loyal worshippers of the Science God. They
conceive the earth to be a workshop in which men serve Science, their
God, serving a sort of apprenticeship during which He perfects them to
the state of ideal machines. To be a perfect machine, always accurate,
with no distracting emotions, no getting off the track - that was the
ideal which the Great God _Science_ required of his worshippers. To be a
perfect machine, or a perfect cog in a machine, to get rid of all
individuality, all disturbing sentiment, that was their idea of supreme
happiness. Despite the obvious narrowness it involved, there was
something sublime in the conception of this religion. It certainly had
nothing in common with the "Christian Science" that was in vogue during
the early years of the twentieth Century; it towered with a noble
grandeur above that feeble little sham.

The Science Community was organized like a machine: and all men played
their parts, in government, in labor, in administration, in production,
like perfect cogs and accurate wheels, and the machine functioned
perfectly. The devotees were described as fanatical, but happy. They
certainly were well trained and efficient. The Science Community grew.
In ten years it had a million people, and was a worldwide wonder of
civic planning and organization; it contained so many astonishing
developments in mechanical service to human welfare and comfort that it
was considered as a sort of model of the future city. The common man
there was provided with science-produced luxuries, in his daily life,
that were in the rest of the world the privilege of the wealthy few - but
he used his increased energy and leisure in serving the more devotedly,
his God, Science, who had made machines. There was a great temple in the
city, the shape of a huge dynamo-generator, whose interior was worked
out in a scheme of mechanical devices, and with music, lights, and odors
to help in the worship.

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Online LibraryVariousAstounding Stories of Super-Science September 1930 → online text (page 1 of 19)