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Dreaming Again

Grimes and the Gaijin Daimyo the first A Bertram Chandler story to be published in 24 year is now available in the Anthology Dreaming Again edited by Jack Dann.

The Mentor

The Utter Limit

Even in a household of only two persons there is occasional failure to see eye to eye regarding the choice of the evening’s TV entertainment. There is, too, occasional nobility. The everloving is far more noble that I am. The other night she volunteered to do the washing up after dinner so that I could watch THE OUTER LIMITS. Never look a gift horse in the mouth, thought I, even though THE OUTER LIMITS is far from being my favourite programme.

The title of the Episode was WOLF 359. This warned me. For some reason that star exercises a considerable fascination over the minds of those who want to write science fiction but can’t.
I noted from the credit titles that those - there were two of ‘em - responsible for the script had names utterly unknown in our field. I feared the worst.

The period of the story was, apparently, in the very near future. Costume, automobiles, aircraft &c &c were all here-and-now. The protagonist was a Professor somebody-or-other employed by the Dundee Foundation. At his laboratory out in the desert he was engaged in a piece of important research - to determine if a planet of the star Wolf 359 was suitable for colonisation. It was never made clear whether or not a hunk of matter from this world had been brought back by an interstellar probe, or if the Professor and his assistants were working from data accumulated by astronomers. But there the miniature planet was, under glass, spherical, with clouds, seas and all the trimmings and a vastly accelerated time scale. It was called Dundee Planet as a small tribute to the Foundation that was footing the bill.

Surface conditions could be observed through an enormously powerful microscope. When life appeared it was blandly assumed that it would pass through the same stages of evolution as the life on the real Wolf 359 planet. It was assumed, too, that this evolution would be very similar to that on Earth.

Just about the time of the emergence of the giant reptiles the Professor, his aide and his wife started to see something...odd. It was like an animaged bedsheet in the form of a bat. And at about this time the local coyotes started playing up, making the night hideous with their howling. It was so loud that Susan came through from the kitchen demanding that I do something about the cats. (In our street we have cats the same as other people have mice...)

Obviously there was something uncanny going on. The coyotes were scared of something. So were the humans. Suspicion started to nicker across their minds that the tiny world had its own deity as well as its own material life, and that this deity was a singularly malicious one. (We’ve had some real beauts on this planet...).

The Professor decided to hold the fort alone. He chased out his wife and his faithful aid. His reason, given in the notes that he dictated into a tape recorder, was that the Thing had found a way to get out of the tank in which Dundee Planet (somehow) floated. It killed - apparently by dehydration - two guinea pigs, one canary, and a few ornamental cacti. His reason for staying on himself was that he was determined to get a preview of Terran future history, as by this time the Dudnonians were well into their Twentieth Century and fighting nuclear wars.

And then the Thing got out again and came for him. He was sprawling on his unmade bed, trying to fight It off, when his faithful wife returned. With almost his last breath he told her to destroy Dundee Planet. She staggered into the laboratory, picked up a stool and, with her second blow, smashed the glass side of the tank. The Wolf 359 atmosphere rushed out, the Terran atmosphere rushed in, and in a second the miniature world was no more than a lifeless ball of rock.

And the God of Dundee Planet vanished.

All the foregoing was bad enough; it was the philosophising at the finish which really put me off. The Professor said solemnly that the Earth-type planet revolving around Wolf 359 was not for us; no world with such a bloodthirsty deity could be fit home for men. But we would, he was sure, find good worlds Somewhere Out There... And so on, and so on.

Good worlds, I thought, that we should soon drag down to our level. Didn’t the authors of the script ever read, watch or listen to the News?

Nonetheless, I did feel a slight envy. The gimmick of a god who comes with the lease was ingenious. I felt envy, and a certain resentment. Such a beautiful chance for a really effective ending was missed - a chance that none of us would have missed.

It could have been done quite easily. Just a huge, vaguely human figure in silhouette against the sky, with something hard and heavy raised to strike....
Originally Published in The Mentor No: 22 - Apr 1972