The Devolutionist (8)
April 11, 2013
HILOBROW is pleased to present the eighth installment of our serialization of Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist. New installments will appear each Thursday for eighteen weeks.
“The Devolutionist” (Argosy All-Story Weekly, July 1921) is the third occult-science-fiction Dr. Kinney story; the others are “The Lord of Death” (June 1919), “The Queen of Life” (August 1919), and “The Emancipatrix” (September 1921). Having learned how to visit other worlds telepathically, without leaving Earth — by means of Venusian technology — Dr. Kinney and his companions enter the minds and share the sensations of the inhabitants of a human-like civilization on other planets. In this story, they visit a double planet: Hafen is the abode of capitalists, Holl of workers. A nearby planet of “cooperative democrats” is in trouble, so Kinney & co. step in.
Cobbler and one-reeler writer Homer Eon Flint (1888–1924) published a number of pulp science fiction stories — including “The Planeteer” (1918; one of the earliest examples of cosmic sci-fi) and The Blind Spot (1921, with Austin Hall) — during the genre’s Radium Age. Everett Bleiler’s Science Fiction: The Early Years calls Flint “in many ways the outstanding writer of s-f in the Munsey pulp magazines.” Flint died in a crash near Oakland, Calif., after supposedly stealing a taxi at gunpoint in order to use it in a bank hold-up.
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THE UPPER CRUST
The next time Billie went into the tele-conscious state, forty-eight hours later, she found that she had “arrived” in the midst of a conversation. It told her worlds.
“I answered the telephone,” some one was saying, “and Mr. Powart clearly said that he would be here within the hour.” [Footnote: The word hour is used advisedly. Of course, the Capellan hour may have an entirely different length from ours.]
“I suppose it is just as well,” answered the surgeon whom Billie now knew as Mona. “Yes, I dare say it is quite as well.”
“Is there any reason why he shouldn’t, dear?” inquired the other party, a middle-aged woman, magnificently dressed, of decidedly distinguished appearance.
“No, mother,” replied the girl; “not so far as he is concerned. But —Mr. Fort also is coming to-day.”
The older woman saw nothing alarming about this. “I am glad to hear it. He impressed me as being a very nice boy, although rather impulsive.”
“You don’t understand. It’s going to be very embarrassing for me. Mr. Fort warned me last night — laughingly, of course, but I think he meant it — that he intended to propose to-day.”
Swift anxiety came to the mother’s face. For a while she kept silence. And while Mona’s conscious mind was occupied with thoughts which Billie could not fathom, her subconscious mind was faithfully taking in all that her roving eyes beheld.
The two Capellans were seated upon the terrace of a large, handsome house, whose architecture Billie tentatively classified as semi-Moorish. Mona next glanced into the grounds, telling Billie that the house was set upon a knoll, high up on the ridge of a tremendous range of mountains. Similar houses dotted what landscape was visible through a mass of foliage. It was just the sort of residence colony that Billie herself would have chosen.
Then the eyes came back to the mother, who was saying: “Perhaps, my dear, you would rather that I told Mr. Fort of your engagement.” She watched the daughter as though expecting her to refuse the offer.
Which is just what the heart-specialist did, with a proud toss of the head. “Thank you; but I cannot have him think that I lack the nerve to tell him myself.”
She excused herself and went into the house, passing through rooms so rapidly that Billie learned little, save that the place fairly swarmed with men in livery. Once in Mona’s room, however, Billie discovered that metallic furniture was the rule; that the windows were without screens, [Footnote: The Capellans seem to have utterly stamped out all forms of insect life except those directly beneficial to man.] and that the bed was set down very close to the floor. Otherwise, the room was much like any on the earth.
Mona’s clothes interested Billie immensely. Without exception the garments were skirtless, and a large proportion of the suits were in one piece. Headgear was limited to caps, of which Mona owned an immense variety; while she wore nothing but high lace-up boots or pumps. Billie was sure that these were all of leather.
With the aid of no less than four maids, all of whom were very pretty girls, Mona changed to a garment of some lustrous brown material, like silk velvet but with a much longer nap, together with stockings of the golf pattern, and black pumps. Next she proceeded to inspect herself carefully in a mirror.
Billie saw that Smith’s estimate of “not over thirty” was accurate enough. The girl was still young as to face, although her body was remarkably robust. And Billie found that her delicacy of feature did not suffer from the close-up.
Instead, her refinement was made only the more striking. Probably it was the high arching of her eyebrows that had made her face patrician; that, together with the sensitiveness of her nostrils. For there was nothing at all cold about her eyes; they were a very dark brown, large and full. And her lips were anything but haughty; they were a deep red and piquantly upturned at the corners. The whole carriage of her head, however, marked her as an aristocrat, but a lovable one.
As she turned from the glass the sound of a laugh came from the front of the house. Billie instantly recognized Fort’s voice. Mona gave her hair a final touch and went straight to the terrace.
“How do you do?” said the surgeon coolly, as she took Fort’s eagerly outstretched hand. And again Billie was more interested in the man’s gray-leather flying suit, so well becoming his fine muscular development, than in the conventional reply he made. Next moment Mona’s mother was saying:
“I have been trying to thank Mr. Fort for what he did yesterday. It was a remarkably brave thing!”
“Indeed it was,” declared Mona, with feeling. “And yet, try as I might last night, I was unable to make him see that it was anything out of the ordinary, mother.”
“Why, of course,” protested the athlete carelessly. “There was nothing brave about it. One is not brave unless one is afraid; and I wasn’t afraid. I can take no credit for the thing.”
“Do you mean,” questioned Mona, “that you are never afraid?”
“Not when I am in the air.”
There was silence for a minute, and again Billie used Mona’s eyes to good advantage. Fort was certainly a good-looking chap, although slightly untidy in small items of his costume. He was the kind which looks best when somewhat disheveled, anyhow. As to face — a large, handsomely curved mouth, a slightly Roman nose, eyes as big as Mona’s and as blue as hers were brown. Decidedly, the man was worth looking at, again and again. Most daredevils are sharp-featured; Fort was kindly. There was something positively reassuring about his kind of audacity.
Presently the mother mentioned Ernol, the radical; seemingly these people had been privately informed of what Powart was keeping from the workers. Fort commented:
“I was really frightened when I heard of it. Why, if that fellow’s philosophy is listened to, we all may have to work for a living!” His laughter rang above the rest; then he thought of Mona. “Oh, I say, I quite forgot, I assure you.”
“Don’t mention it,” returned the surgeon humorously. “I don’t mind telling you that this service of mine is largely camouflage. I belong to the Delusion Brigade.”
Fort was greatly surprised. “You, a volunteer?”
“Quite so. There must always be some one of our class to whom people can look, whenever they suspect that we are not democratic. Besides, I have always fancied surgery.” She told briefly of her work.
“Why, you are a famous person!” declared the athlete.
“You make me ashamed; I do nothing at all but amuse myself.”
“Which is quite as well, Mr. Fort,” the mother assured him. “I tried my best to keep Mona out of this; a social conquest is what I had planned for her. But she had set her mind on surgery; so —” And she left the rest to Fort’s imagination.
A moment later Billie heard a flying-machine approaching. Shortly it came near enough for her to see that it was greatly like a yacht, painted white all over, and possessing exceptionally tall masts. The canvas was already unfurled and the vessel descending under the control of some unusually powerful wings.
“Mr. Powart’s official boat,” Mona explained to Fort.
The craft landed softly on the edge of the lawn, some distance away. The three on the terrace did not stir from their places as Powart, accompanied by eight men in uniform, stepped swiftly down a short ladder and strode rapidly to the house. The eight guards, each of whom carried a brown leather box, like a motion-picture camera, took up unobtrusive positions near at hand. These cases, however, were not used for taking photographs; Billie thought them more like some kind of condensed rapid-fire guns.
Before Powart got within ear-shot, Mona leaned toward Fort. “This is my fiance,” she said with an evident effort; and when she straightened up her hands were trembling.
Fort took it astonishingly well. He concealed any hint of his feelings as the chairman was introduced. Powart gave him a single penetrating glance, then advanced in his sure, self-confident way, and took both the girl’s hands in his own. She remained in her seat.
“I am very glad to see you looking so well. Do you feel fully recovered, Mona?”
“Yes, thank you,” coolly. “Or perhaps I should say, thanks to Mr. Fort, here.”
Powart turned his keen gray eyes upon the athlete. “If there is any way I can show you how much I appreciate this —”
Fort waved his hand jauntily. “Wait till I do something that costs me a real effort!”
Something in his voice caught the chairman’s ear. He scrutinized the athlete more closely; and Billie found herself comparing the two. They were both big fellows; otherwise there was no resemblance. The one was as dark as the other was blond; moreover, he was somewhat heavier than Fort, and of the sort which must be dressed immaculately at all times. His good looks were due to the clean-cut lines of his face; for his eyes were stern and his mouth very strong.
If the one was impulsive, the other was sure. Fort loved to take a chance; the other, would not act until he was absolutely certain. Billie decided that he was the steadier, the more reliable of the two; also, the least likable, for that very reason. Infallibility is a fearsome thing.
The mother arose with some remark about going into the gardens, and Fort offered his arm. Powart took their going purely as a matter of course, and continued to stand — he seldom sat down — directly in front of Mona.
“I hope,” said he in his direct fashion, “that you can see your way clear to consider wearing this,” and he produced a small, blue velvet case from an inner pocket. And next moment Billie was peeking over Mona’s shoulder, so to speak, to see a ring made of some milk-white metal, set with a single oval stone of a blood-red hue. The surgeon gave a tiny gasp at the sight of it.
“Bribery and corruption!” she cried, and started to slip the ring on to the middle finger of her left hand. Before it was done, however, she paused.
“I almost forgot.” She gave Powart a sidelong glance. “Last night I thought it over, and —Well, you know how women are about changing their minds.”
“Surely you haven’t completely altered your opinion of me?” incredulously, rather than anxiously.
“No; I just want more time to think it over, that’s all. It is not that I think less of you than before, but somehow, since having such a close call —I haven’t quite as much confidence in my ability to meet your expectations.” This as though she had worded it beforehand.
Powart showed little concern. “Of course I am sorry; but perhaps it is just as well. Beyond a doubt you will soon come to see it as clearly as you did the other day.” He paused as the girl slowly extended the ring to him. “Why not wear it anyhow, Mona?”
“I’d rather not — not until I am sure. It’s a dreadful temptation, though!”
And Powart had no choice other than to reflect her smile with one of his own, while he quietly slipped the little case back into his pocket.
Almost with the same motion he took out a watch. “You must excuse me. Business of state, as usual.”
“Certainly,” as she rose. She gave a quick glance around, then shook her head playfully as Powart took a single eager step toward her. “Next time,” she said; and he bit his lip, gripped her hand tightly, and strode away. In a minute he and his guards were back in the yacht, and in three minutes out of sight.
By that time Fort and Mona’s mother had returned. There was a quick exchange of glances between the two women, and then the mother excused herself and went in the house. Fort suddenly became awkwardly self-conscious.
“Well, I must be going.” He paused; a gleam of mischief flashed into his eyes — a kind of final come-back. “Next time I rescue you, young lady, I shall let you get hurt ever so much worse, so that I can have an excuse to call more than I have so far!”
His face sobered swiftly. “I nearly forgot. May I congratulate you upon your — engagement? Mr. Powart is a very fine man.”
“Thank you; so he is. Really, I have lately come to wonder if I am good enough for him.” Then, significantly: “The date has been postponed indefinitely. It is not impossible that I may give him up.”
Fort stared incredulously for a second, then saw that she meant it. The blood rushed to his face, leaving him white and shaky with excitement. He made a sudden move toward the girl, checking himself just as suddenly.
“Well!” His usually easy speech nearly failed him. But he laughed as boldly as ever. “I am convinced that you are far from being a well woman, Miss Mona! I shall have to call — often!”
And with a short but exceedingly intense gaze of infinite meaning, he wheeled, clapped his cap to his head, dashed to his machine and was gone.
RADIUM AGE SCIENCE FICTION: “Radium Age” is HILOBROW’s name for the 1904–33 era, which saw the discovery of radioactivity, the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. This era also saw the publication of genre-shattering writing by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sax Rohmer, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Jack London, Arthur Conan Doyle, Aldous Huxley, Olaf Stapledon, Karel Čapek, H.P. Lovecraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Philip Gordon Wylie, and other pioneers of post-Verne/Wells, pre-Golden Age “science fiction.”
HILOBOOKS: The mission of HiLoBooks is to serialize novels (both original and reissued) on HiLobrow, and to reissue Radium Age science fiction in beautiful new print editions. The following titles can be read in serial form via HiLobrow.com and/or purchased in gorgeous paperback form online or via your local independent bookstore: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”), Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt, H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook, Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins, William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, J.D. Beresford’s Goslings, E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man, Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage, and Muriel Jaeger’s The Man with Six Senses. Also serialized on HiLobrow: W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet”, Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist, Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon — 2419 A.D., Jack London’s “The Red One”. For more information, visit the HiLoBooks homepage.
ORIGINAL FICTION from HILOBROW: James Parker’s swearing-animal fable The Ballad of Cocky The Fox, later published in limited-edition paperback by HiLoBooks; plus: a newsletter, The Sniffer, by Patrick Cates, and further stories: “The Cockarillion”) | Karinne Keithley Syers’s hollow-earth adventure Linda, later published in limited-edition paperback; plus: ukulele music, and a “Floating Appendix”) | Matthew Battles’s stories “Gita Nova“, “Makes the Man,” “Imago,” “Camera Lucida,” “A Simple Message”, “Children of the Volcano”, “The Gnomon”, “Billable Memories”, “For Provisional Description of Superficial Features”, “The Dogs in the Trees”, “The Sovereignties of Invention”, and “Survivor: The Island of Dr. Moreau”; several of these later appeared in the collection The Sovereignties of Invention, published by Red Lemonade | Robert Waldron’s high-school campus roman à clef The School on the Fens | Peggy Nelson’s “Mood Indigo“, “Top Kill Fail“, and “Mercerism” | Annalee Newitz’s “The Great Oxygen Race” | Flourish Klink’s Star Trek fanfic “Conference Comms” | Charlie Mitchell’s “A Fantasy Land” | Charlie Mitchell’s “Sentinels” | Joshua Glenn’s “The Lawless One”, and the mashup story “Zarathustra vs. Swamp Thing” | Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri’s Idoru Jones comics | John Holbo’s “Sugarplum Squeampunk” | “Another Corporate Death” (1) and “Another Corporate Death” (2) by Mike Fleisch | Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Frank Fiorentino’s graphic novel “The Song of Otto” (excerpt) | John Holbo’s graphic novel On Beyond Zarathustra (excerpt) | “Manoj” and “Josh” by Vijay Balakrishnan | “Verge” by Chris Rossi, and his audio novel Low Priority Hero | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD (1.408-415) by Flourish Klink | EPIC WINS: THE KALEVALA (3.1-278) by James Parker | EPIC WINS: THE ARGONAUTICA (2.815-834) by Joshua Glenn | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD by Stephen Burt | EPIC WINS: THE MYTH OF THE ELK by Matthew Battles | EPIC WINS: GOTHAMIAD by Chad Parmenter | TROUBLED SUPERHUMAN CONTEST: Charles Pappas, “The Law” | CATASTROPHE CONTEST: Timothy Raymond, “Hem and the Flood” | TELEPATHY CONTEST: Rachel Ellis Adams, “Fatima, Can You Hear Me?” | OIL SPILL CONTEST: A.E. Smith, “Sound Thinking | LITTLE NEMO CAPTION CONTEST: Joe Lyons, “Necronomicon” | SPOOKY-KOOKY CONTEST: Tucker Cummings, “Well Marbled” | INVENT-A-HERO CONTEST: TG Gibbon, “The Firefly” | FANFICTION CONTEST: Lyette Mercier’s “Sex and the Single Superhero”