Odd John: A Story Between Jest and Earnest, by Olaf Stapledon

Chapter 22

The End

JOHN was under no illusion that the colony had been saved; but if we could gain another three months’ respite, he said, the immediate task which the islanders had undertaken would be finished. A minor part of this work consisted in completing certain scientific records, which were to be entrusted to me for the benefit of the normal species. There was also an amazing document, written by John himself, and purporting to give an account of the whole story of the Cosmos. Whether it should be taken as a plain statement of fact or a poetic fantasy I do not know. These various documents were now being typed, filed and packed in wooden cases; for the time had come for my departure. “If you stay much longer,” John said, “you will die along with the rest of us, and our records will be lost. To us it matters not at all whether they are saved or not, but they may prove of interest to the more enlightened members of your own species. You had better not attempt to publish them till a good many years have passed, and the Governments have ceased to feel sore about us. Meanwhile, if you like, you can perpetuate the biography — as fiction, of course, since no one would believe it.”

One day Tsomotre reported that a party of toughs was being secretly equipped for our destruction by agents of certain governments which I will not name.

The wooden chests were loaded on to the Skid along with my baggage. The whole colony assembled on the quay to bid me farewell. I shook hands with them all in turn; and Lo, to my surprise, kissed me. “We do love you, Fido,” she said. “If they were all like you, domestic, there’d have been no trouble. Remember, when you write about us, that we loved you.” Sambo, when his turn came, clambered from Ng–Gunko’s arms to mine, then hurriedly back again. “I’d go with you if I wasn’t so tied up with these snobs that I couldn’t live without them.”

John’s parting words were these. “Yes, say in the biography that I loved you very much.” I could not reply.

Kemi and Marianne, who were in charge of the Skid, were already hauling in the mooring lines. We crept out of the little harbour and gathered speed as we passed between the outer headlands. The double pyramid of the island shrank, faded, and was soon a mere cloud on the horizon.

I was taken to one of the least important of the French islands, one on which there were no Europeans. By night we unloaded the baggage in the dinghy and set it on a lonely beach. Then we made our farewells, and very soon the Skid with her crew vanished into the darkness. When morning came I went in search of natives and arranged for the transport of my goods and myself to civilization. Civilization? No, that I had left behind for ever.

Of the end of the colony I know very little. For some weeks I hung about in the South Seas trying to pick up information. At last I came upon one of the hooligans who had taken part in the final scene. He was very reluctant to speak, not only because he knew that to blab was to risk death, but also because the whole affair had evidently got on his nerves. Bribery and alcohol, however, loosened his tongue.

The assassins had been warned to take no risks. The enemy, though in appearance juvenile, was said to be diabolically cunning and treacherous. Machine-guns might be useful, and it would be advisable not to parley.

A large and well-armed party of the invaders landed outside the harbour, and advanced upon the settlement. The islanders must have known telepathically that these ruffians were too base to be dealt with by the technique which had been used on former invaders. Probably it would have been easy to destroy them by atomic disintegration as soon as they landed; though I remember being told that it was much more difficult to disintegrate the atoms of living bodies than of corpses. Apparently no attempt was made to put this method in action. Instead, John seems to have devised a new and subtler method of defence; for according to my informant the landing-party very soon “began to feel there were devils in the place.” They were apparently seized with a nameless horror. Their flesh began to creep, their limbs to tremble. This was all the more terrifying because it was broad daylight, and the sun was beating heavily down on them. No doubt the supernormals were making their presence felt telepathically in some grim and formidable manner unintelligible to us. As the invaders advanced hesitatingly through the brushwood, this terrifying sense of some overmastering presence became more and more intense. In addition they began to experience a crazy fear of one another. Every man cast sidelong glances of fright and hate at his neighbour. Suddenly they all fell upon one another, using knives, fire-arms, teeth and fingers. The brawl lasted only a few minutes, but several were killed, many wounded. The survivors took to their heels, and to the boats.

For two days the ship lay off the island, while her crew debated violently among themselves. Some were for abandoning the venture; but others pointed out that to return empty-handed was to go to certain destruction; for the great ones who had sent them had made it clear that, though success would be generously rewarded, failure would be punished ruthlessly. There was nothing for it but to try again. Another landing-party was organized, and fortified with large quantities of rum. The result was much the same as on the former occasion; but it was noticed that those who were most drunk were least affected by the sinister influence.

The assassins took three more days to screw up their courage for another landing. The bodies of their dead comrades were visible upon the hill-side. How many of the living were destined to join that ghastly company? The party made itself so drunk that it could hardly row the boats. It braced itself with uproarious song. Also it carried the brave liquor with it in a keg. After the landing the gruesome influence was again felt, but this time the invaders answered it with reinforcements of ruin and revelry. Reeling, clinging together, dropping their weapons, tripping over roots and one another’s feet, but defiantly singing, they advanced over the spur of hill, and saw the harbour and the settlement beneath them. They floundered down the slope. One of them accidentally discharged a pistol into his own thigh. He collapsed, yelling, but the others rushed on.

They stumbled into the presence of the supernormals, who were gathered near the power-station. There the reeling assailants sheepishly came to a stand. By now the effects of the rum were somewhat abated; and the sight of those strange beings, motionless, with their great calm eyes, seems to have dismayed the assassins. Suddenly they fled.

For some days they wrangled among themselves, and kept to their ship. They dared not land again; they dared not sail.

One afternoon, however, they were amazed to see a prodigious and dazzling spread of flame rise from behind the hill, and light up land and sea. There followed a muffled roar which echoed from the clouds like thunder. The blaze died down, but it was followed by an even more alarming phenomenon. The whole island began to sink. Waves appeared to be clambering up the hills. Presently the ship’s anchor released itself from the sinking bottom, and she was cast adrift. The island continued to descend, and the sea swept in upon it, bearing the gyrating vessel over the tops of the sunken trees. The twin peaks were submerged. Converging currents met above their heads and reared a great spout of ocean. This liquid horn, descending, drove hills of water outwards in all directions. The ship was overwhelmed. Her top-hamper, boats, and most of her deck-houses were torn away. Half the crew were lost overboard.

This cataclysm apparently occurred on the 15th December 1933. It may, of course, have been an effect of purely physical causes. Even when I first heard of it, however, I was inclined to think that it was not. I suspected that the islanders had been holding their assailants at bay in order to gain a few days for the completion of their high spiritual task, or in order to bring it at least to a point beyond which there was no hope of further advancement. I liked to believe that during the few days after the repulse of the third landing-party they accomplished this aim. They then decided, I thought, not to await the destruction which was bound sooner or later to overtake them at the hands of the less human species, either through these brutish instruments or through the official forces of the Great Powers. The supernormals might have chosen to end their career by simply falling dead, but seemingly they desired to destroy their handiwork along with themselves. They would not allow their home, and all the objects of beauty with which they had adorned it, to fall into subhuman clutches. Therefore they deliberately blew up their power-station, thereby destroying not only themselves but their whole settlement. I surmised further that this mighty convulsion must have spread downwards into the precarious foundations of the island, disturbing them so violently that the whole island collapsed.

As soon as I had gleaned as much information as possible, I hurried home with my documentary treasures, wondering how I should give the news to Pax. It did not seem to me likely that she would have learnt it already from John. When I landed in England, she and Doc met me. Her face showed me that she was prepared. At once she said, “You need not break the news gently, because we know the main part of it. John gave me visions of it. I saw those tipsy brutes routed by his power. And in a few days afterwards I saw many happy things on the island. I saw John and Lo, walking together on the shore, like lovers at last. One day I saw all the young people sitting in a panelled room, evidently their meeting-room. I heard John say that it was time to die. They all rose and went away, in couples and little groups; and presently they gathered round the door of a stone building that must have been their power-station. Ng–Gunko went through the door, carrying Sambo. Suddenly there was blinding light and noise and pain, then nothing.”

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