The Devolutionist (18)
June 20, 2013
HILOBROW is pleased to present the eighteenth 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.
THE SILVER HEART
Mona leaped to the controls. She turned the craft about automatically and started toward Hafen. Then she glanced over the side. What she saw brought her heart to her throat.
About a mile below, and under Fort as he sank through the air, was another flying machine which neither had noticed before. In it was the figure of a man standing; he was maneuvering his craft so as to intercept the falling aviator. And the clear air of the high altitudes carried the sound of his voice faintly but surely to Mona’s ears.
“Thought you’d get away, did you, Fort?” in heavy, insolent tones. “Well, you get — left, my boy!”
“Eklan Norbith!” cried Fort at the same instant. Next second he had landed on the deputy’s machine.
“Norbith!” thought Mona, immediately recalling her patient at the hospital. She hesitated only an instant, then dove in a steep spiral down toward the two.
Fort had fouled his parachute on a stanchion, in landing. Breathless, he lay in a tangled heap, looking up at the towering bulk of the deputy.
“You’re not going to get clear this time, Fort, like you did that night with the Cobulus and Ernol’s gang!” Norbith was saying savagely, gloating over the man at his feet. “Thought the lad killed me, I suppose. I was barely stunned. And I’ve been on your tail — ever since.”
His eyes glowed with anger. Mona watched him in silence as she circled nearer. Norbith! The commission’s deputy in Calastia; he represented all that was evil and cruel in the government. It was he who did the nasty work, the things which Powart himself was too much of a gentleman to do. Norbith — the strong, cruel right arm on an unjust law!
“Well”—Fort had regained his breath somewhat —“now that you’ve got me, Norbith, what do you intend to do about it?”
“Do!” The man’s voice fairly boomed. “I’m going to tear that parachute off your back and pitch you overboard, you infernal outlaw! And I’m going to claim that you resisted arrest!”
At that instant he noted Mona for the first time. He started as he recognized her. “The surgeon!”
Then his rage came on him again. “You hold your tongue, young woman, or I shall have it — pulled out! Do you understand?” he demanded, thrusting his face up toward hers.
And then Fort was upon him. All he cared for now was to get his fingers in Norbith’s throat. And next moment Mona was desperately steering his machine clear of the other as it swayed and thrashed about under the struggling of the two men.
The advantage was with the deputy. Powerful man that he was, he was more than a match for even Fort’s great strength, while the athlete’s agility did him no good in the restricted space of the cockpit. The parachute hindered him, too. Down on the ground, on a clear spot, it would have been different. As it was, Fort was quickly thrust to his knees, and, despite all that he could do, he could not fight off the deputy’s grip. In a moment it had shifted to the athlete’s throat.
“You would, would you!” roared the deputy. “By — you’ll be dead even before you reach the ground!”
Fort struggled wildly. In a moment he was strangling; Mona could see his protruding eyes and lolling tongue. She could not help. She was not athlete enough to leap to his aid. But all of a sudden, just as Fort had once come to her own rescue, her tongue came to his.
“Boy! Boy! Tear open his shirt! Tear open his shirt!”
Fort heard. For a second he hesitated, dull wonder in his starting eyes; then he reached up, and with a spasmodic jerk of his hands, ripped Norbith’s shirt wide open. The man’s bare chest was exposed.
“Don’t you see?” shrieked Mona hysterically. “Look, boy! Look!”
And Fort saw. Saw the two silver tubes leading from the brown scar in the breast of this man — the man whose heart had been replaced by a silver instrument. Saw the tubes, leading to a belt around the man’s middle, where the pumping mechanism was concealed. And as Fort saw, he understood.
With a final burst of strength he raised his quivering fingers and clutched one of the little pipes. A jerk, an exclamation from Norbith; and then, even as Fort’s head fell back insensate, his hand snapped the little tube in two.
“Good God!” swore the deputy. “You — you’ve —” He gasped and spluttered; he let go of Fort. The athlete dropped like a log into the bottom of the craft.
But Eklan Norbith stood upright, his hands thrashing wildly, his mouth twitching horribly. One end of the broken tube hissed with escaping air; the other end spouted blood. The deputy swayed; his head dropped to his shoulders.
And then the air rushed into his lungs for the last time; he gave a single piercing shriek, tottered, and fell backward out of the machine.
Fort opened his eyes to see Mona bending over him, bathing his head. He looked around dully, blinked once or twice, frowned as though trying to remember, and then said:
“How — did I get here?”
“I waited until Norbith’s machine steadied,” said she in a wonderfully soft voice, “and then flew down close enough to pick you up.”
He remembered. Suddenly he grasped at her arm and tried to get up. “Hurry!” he cried. “You’ve only got time enough to make it! The gap — don’t take any chances!”
But the girl was paying no attention to where the machine was going. She was looking at the man and seeming to be perfectly satisfied. “I don’t care,” she declared a little shakily. “Holl looks good enough to me, dear — if you’re going to be living on it!”
The craft rocked perilously.
Back on the earth, three of the four stirred in their chairs. The doctor was the first to arouse. He sounded the gong to warn his wife, and the action helped to awaken the others; Billie first, then Smith. But Van Emmon did not rouse. Still connected with the dictator, Billie’s husband was twisting and turning in his chair, moaning slightly under his breath. In his subconscious mind some terrible scene was being enacted. Suddenly his mouth flew open, and the words fairly tumbled forth:
“Ernol — at the contact — he’s telephoned! Everybody knows now!” Next: “Billie: Why didn’t you tell me? I could have warned Powart!” And then, in a voice of agony:
“God, what a mob! They’ll kill him!”
But he was still unconscious. The doctor exclaimed in fear.
“Quick!” he ordered. “Into the connection again!” And he threw himself back into his chair.
In a minute the three were still. Except for two great tears from Billie’s eyes, there were no signs of life. Two minutes passed, then three. Finally all four roused together.
“Well!” Van Emmon was the first to speak. His voice was harsh and strained. “By George, that was a narrow squeak! I thought sure I was a goner! They threw Powart — out of his yacht!”
Billie caught his hand and patted it. Her lips were trembling; she could not trust herself to speak. Her husband stared at her with eyes that were still bewildered and tried hard to understand.
Smith could say nothing. The doctor, however, got to his feet and stretched.
“Phew!” taking off the brass bracelets and reaching for a handful of the Venusian books. “That was — going some!”
He located a passage in one of the books. “I guess we’ve had enough of people like ourselves. What do you say,” eagerly, “to visiting a place where they’re not even the same sort of animals as we are?”
He looked around enthusiastically. Smith made a brief sound of agreement, and remained in his chair. Both he and the doctor looked to Billie and Van Emmon for comment.
But the man and the woman were content to look at one another. Their minds had room for only one problem; their eyes saw nothing, cared to see nothing, save that which love seeks and, having found, is satisfied with.
Did it make any difference to Billie that her husband had sympathized with Capellette’s greatest despot and worst failure? Did it make any difference to Van that Billie approved when the woman she was allied with discarded the despot for the devolutionist?
Or was Billie still his chief reason for existing, and was Van hers?
That was the real question! Small matters like life in other worlds — they could wait!
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”