Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy #1) - Page 33
"I suppose this finishes us?" he whispered.
"Expect so," whispered Devine, without looking round.
Weston presently recovered sufficiently to come back and stand beside Devine. There was nothing for Ransom to do. He was sure, now, that they were soon to die. With this realization, the agony of his suspense suddenly disappeared. Death, whether it came now or some thirty years later on earth, rose up and claimed his attention. There are preparations a man likes to make. He left the control room and returned into one of the sunward chambers, into the indifference of the moveless light, the warmth, the silence and the sharp-cut shadows. Nothing was farther from his mind than sleep. It must have been the exhausted atmosphere which made him drowsy. He slept.
He awoke in almost complete darkness in the midst of a loud continuous noise, which he could not at first identify. It reminded him of something – something he seemed to have heard in a previous existence. It was a prolonged drumming noise close above his head. Suddenly his heart gave a great leap.
"Oh God," he sobbed. "Oh God! It’s rain."
He was on Earth. The air was heavy and stale about him, but the choking sensations he had been suffering were gone. He realized that he was still in the space-ship. The others, in fear of its threatened ‘unbodying,’ had characteristically abandoned it the moment it touched Earth and left him to his fate. It was difficult in the dark, and under the crushing weight of terrestrial gravity, to find his way out. But he managed it. He found the manhole and slithered, drinking great draughts of air, down the outside of the sphere; slipped in mud, blessed the smell of it, and at last raised the unaccustomed weight of his body to its feet. He stood in pitch-black night under torrential rain. With every pore of his body he drank it in; with every desire of his heart he embraced the smell of the field about him – a patch of his native planet where grass grew, where cows moved, where presently he would come to hedges and a gate.
He had walked about half an hour when a vivid light behind him and a strong, momentary wind informed him that the space-ship was no more. He felt very little interest. He had seen dim lights, the lights of men, ahead. He contrived to get into a lane, then into a road, then into a village street. A lighted door was open. There were voices from within and they were speaking English. There was a familiar smell. He pushed his way in, regardless of the surprise he was creating, and walked to the bar.
"A pint of bitter, please," said Ransom.
AT THIS point, if I were guided by purely literary considerations, my story would end, but it is time to remove the mask and to acquaint the reader with the real and practical purpose for which this book has been written. At the same time he will learn how the writing of it became possible at all.
Dr Ransom – and at this stage it will become obvious that this is not his real name – soon abandoned the idea of his Malacandrian dictionary and indeed all idea of communicating his story to the world. He was ill for several months, and when he recovered he found himself in considerable doubt as to whether what he remembered had really occurred. It looked very like a delusion produced by his illness, and most of his apparent adventures could, he saw, be explained psychoanalytically. He did not lean very heavily on this fact himself, for he had long since observed that a good many ‘real’ things in the fauna and flora of our own world could be accounted for in the same way if you started with the assumption that they were illusions. But he felt that if he himself half doubted his own story, the rest of the world would disbelieve it completely. He decided to hold his tongue, and there the matter would have rested but for a very curious coincidence.
This is where I come into the story. I had known Dr Ransom slightly for several years and corresponded with him on literary and philological subjects, though we very seldom met. It was, therefore, quite in the usual order of things that I should write him a letter some months ago, of which I will quote the relevant paragraph. It ran like this:
‘I am now working at the Platonists of the twelfth century and incidentally discovering that they wrote damnably difficult Latin. In one of them, Bernardus Silvestris, there is a word I should particularly like your views on – the word Oyarses. It occurs in the description of a voyage through the heavens, and an Oyarses seems to be the "intelligence" or tutelary spirit of a heavenly sphere, i.e. in our language, of a planet. I asked C. J. about it and he says it ought to be Ousiarches. That, of course, would make sense, but I do not feel quite satisfied. Have you by any chance ever come across a word like Oyarses, or can you hazard any guess as to what language it may be?’
The immediate result of this letter was an invitation to spend a weekend with Dr Ransom.
He told me his whole story, and since then he and I have been almost continuously at work on the mystery. A good many facts, which I have no intention of publishing at present, have fallen into our hands; facts about planets in general and about Mars in particular, facts about medieval Platonists, and (not least in importance) facts about the Professor to whom I am giving the fictitious name of Weston. A systematic report of these facts might, of course, be given to the civilized world: but that would almost certainly result in universal incredulity and in a libel action from ‘Weston.’ At the same time, we both feel that we cannot be silent. We are being daily confirmed in our belief that the oyarses of Mars was right when it said that the present ‘celestial year’ was to be a revolutionary one, that the long isolation of our own planet is nearing its end, and that great doings are on foot. We have found reason to believe that the medieval Platonists were living in the same celestial year as ourselves – in fact, that it began in the twelfth century of our era – and that the occurrence of the name Oyarsa (Latinized as oyarses) in Bernardus Silvestris is not an accident. And we have also evidence – increasing almost daily -that ‘Weston,’ or the force or forces behind ‘Weston,’ will play a very important part in the events of the next few centuries, and, unless we prevent them, a very disastrous one. We do not mean that they are likely to invade Mars – our cry is not merely ‘Hands off Malacandra.’ The dangers to be feared are not Planetary but cosmic, or at least solar, and they are not temporal but eternal. More than this it would be unwise to say.
It was Dr Ransom who first saw that our only chance was to publish in the form of fiction what would certainly not be listened to as fact. He even thought – greatly overrating my literary powers – that this might have the incidental advantage of reaching a wider public, and that, certainly, it would reach a great many people sooner than ‘Weston.’ To my objection that if accepted as fiction, it would for that very reason be regarded as false, he replied that there would be indications enough in the narrative for the few readers – the very few – who at present were prepared to go further into the matter.
"And they," he said, "will easily find out you, or me, and will easily identify Weston. Anyway," he continued, "what we need for the moment is not so much a body of belief as a body of people familiarized with certain ideas. If we could even effect in one per cent of our readers a change-over from the conception of Space to the conception of Heaven, we should have made a beginning."
What neither of us foresaw was the rapid march of events which was to render the book out of date before it was published. These events have already made it rather a prologue to our story than the story itself. But we must let it go as it stands. For the later stages of the adventure – well, it was Aristotle, long before Kipling, who taught us the formula, "That is another story."