by R. P. LISTER
Poet and writer of light prose, R. P. LISTER is a Londoner, the author of “Mime the Metallurgist.”which appeared in the December Atlantic.
FOLLICK had a theory about the Universe. “The world’s a giant jumble sale,”he said. “That’s what it is.”
“What do you mean, a jumble sale?” I asked him.
“We’re all remnants,” he said. “Look, you can’t imagine this world being created by chance, can you? Let’s dismiss that.”
“All right,” I said, “let’s dismiss that for the time being.”
“Well, then,” said Follick, “it follows that the world must have been made by someone. A pretty giant brain, if you follow me, to invent the anteater and the neutron and all that. But then, what follows? Well, when you look at the world, what do you find? It doesn’t work all that perfectly, does it ?”
“Not absolutely perfectly,” I said. “From our point of view, that is.”
“And yet there’s evidence of this great brain somewhere,” said Follick. “It’s all too complicated to have just been knocked together by some junior immortal in an off moment, that’s what I’m getting at. It’s perfect in its parts, and yet it’s a mess on the whole.
“Now, as I see it, that can only have happened one way. Some really superior type of immortal has made a perfect world, somewhere. But naturally even the highest type of immortal, like this one, would have to conduct a few experiments. He’d have to feel his way along. There’d be a lot of throwouts, rejects. And he’s got to dispose of all those somehow. Can’t just decreate them. As I see it, once a thing’s created it’s created, can’t just be wiped out, bang, and that’s that. So some place had to be found to house all the remnants. And that’s what this world was made for. It’s a kind of stall to display the unwanted goods.
“I dare say the junior immortals get a good deal of fun out of watching it going on,” he continued. “ Learn a lot, I dare say. They probably station them up there from time to time to have a look at it. ‘See that?' they say. ‘Well, that’s the way not to make a world. You just take a good look and pick up a few tips.’”
“You don’t think they take a hand in our affairs, then?” I asked.
“Oh, no, I don’t think so,” said Follick. “Of course, I don’t say that a few learners may not dabble in it from time to time. Poke a finger in, you know, and stir things up, just to see what happens. But they probably get into trouble for that. Here, you,’ they tell them. ‘You let that stall alone. That’s an exhibition, that is. We want to see what happens to it, so that we can tell what not to do next time. It’s not for young chaps like you to go interfering with.’
“Then, you see,” he said, “I dare say they’re pretty busy on the whole. It’s only every few centuries or so that they’ll send anybody to see how it’s going on, and come back and report. Because, once having set it up, they’d want to get on with the real job. You can’t go on rummaging in the box room when you’re busy in the kitchen. From time to time they may send here for a specimen or two for further study.”
“ You mean great men?” I asked. “Shakespeare, for example?”
“Shakespeare? Oh, no,” said Follick. You don’t get the idea. Shakespeare was busy with human beings; knew all about ‘em. But then, so do the immortals. They’ve tried that one out and given it up. No, I was thinking of something like cats, for instance.”
“Why, yes,” said Follick. “They the senior immortals, that is probably pull out a cat or two when they’re lecturing. ‘See that?' they’ll say. ‘Pretty neat for a rush job, what? Nice fur. Well coördinated. Breathes well, and pretty agile, till it begins to break down. Thinks just enough, but not too much. No selfconsoiousness and no sense of humor. Go away and make a cat, you,’they’ll say. ‘Not like this cat, but better. Take a week over it and bring it next Monday.'”
“But then, when they’ve made this cat,” I said, “what do they do with it?”
“Oh, well, they’ll probably have another botched-up sort of world to house the learners’ jobs,” said Follick.
“There must be a lot of these experimental worlds about,” I said.
“I dare say there are,” said Follick. “In fact, thinking about it, I often wonder if they won’t have to make a start on decreation sometime. Place must begetting cluttered up. They’re probably thinking of it right now.
“‘Lot of these old worlds knocking about,’ they’ll say. ‘Time we had a clearance.’
“Then all those immortals’ll start up defending their own pets.
‘“Can’t clear out Jupiter,’ one of them’ll say. ‘Had a few good hints from that in the last million years or so. I shan’t make that mistake with the mesons next time.’
“Then they’ll all pipe up.
“‘You leave Venus alone,’ one’ll say. ‘She’s my baby. Got some fine high-pressure fish there; only mockups, of course, but I learned a lot from them for that other universe of mine.’
“So it’ll go on, till suddenly one of think of the World.’Why,’he’ll say, ‘there’s that old World Jehovah made before he went on to something more serious. We could get rid of that. He’ll never know hasn’t been back there for ages. Too busy on his new system. Let’s clear that one up.’
“Well, they’ll all fall for this one. They may have a bit of a barney about how they’re going to use the space, but as soon as that’s settled they’ll get to work.”
”I can just see them,”I said. “Setting off in procession with their picks and mattocks, to break us up.
“Procession?" said Follick, astonished. “Why, they won’t need any procession. They’ll just call to some young immortal who’s idling about outside. ‘Hey, you, they’ll say. ‘Just pop down there for ten minutes and clear up that old World. Wipe it out.'
“‘I’m busy,’ he’ll say. ‘I m waiting for Bert.'
“’Waiting for Bert nothing, they’ll say. ‘You let Bert wait for you. Just nip off and clear that World up.’
“So he’ll wander off down here, grumbling a bit, and take one last look at us. ‘Well,’ he’ll say, ‘what a rum go! Just look at ‘em, the electrons hopping from ring to ring in that silly way, and all those quanta, and those men-things. I don’t think much of them, even for a rush job. Seven days? I could have done it in ten minutes.
“‘Well, here goes,’ he’ll say. And he’ll wipe us up. Woosh!”
Follick wagged his head reflectively. “Might happen any minute, he said. “Woosh! And where are we? We won’t be here any more. What’s more, we’ll never have been here. Think of that! You wipe out Time, what we call Time, and then we not only aren’t, but we never were.
“Remnants,” be said somberly. “That’s what we are, remnants. And that’s what’s going to happen to us. Any minute now. You wait for it.” “I’ll wait for it,”I said.
“I don’t know that I don’t even look forward to it,” said Follick.