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´╗┐Title: The Big Engine
Author: Leiber, Fritz
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Big Engine" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                            THE BIG ENGINE

                            By FRITZ LEIBER

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                    Galaxy Magazine February 1962.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



                   Have you found out about the Big
                    Engine? It's all around us, you
                   know--can't you hear it even now?


There are all sorts of screwy theories (the Professor said) of what
makes the wheels of the world go round. There's a boy in Chicago who
thinks we're all of us just the thoughts of a green cat; when the green
cat dies we'll all puff to nothing like smoke. There's a man in the
west who thinks all women are witches and run the world by conjure
magic. There's a man in the east who believes all rich people belong to
a secret society that's a lot tighter and tougher than the Mafia and
that has a monopoly of power-secrets and pleasure-secrets other people
don't dream exist.

Me, I think the wheels of the world just go. I decided that forty
years ago and I've never since seen or heard or read anything to make
me change my mind.

I was a stoker on a lake boat then (the Professor continued, delicately
sipping smoke from his long thin cigarette). I was as stupid as they
make them, but I liked to think. Whenever I'd get a chance I'd go to
one of the big libraries and make them get me all sorts of books.
That was how guys started calling me the Professor. I'd get books on
philosophy, metaphysics, science, even religion. I'd read them and try
to figure out the world. What was it all about, anyway? Why was I here?
What was the point in the whole business of getting born and working
and dying? What was the use of it? Why'd it have to go on and on?

And why'd it have to be so complicated?

Why all the building and tearing down? Why'd there have to be cities,
with crowded streets and horse cars and cable cars and electric cars
and big open-work steel boxes built to the sky to be hung with stone
and wood--my closest friend got killed falling off one of those steel
boxkites. Shouldn't there be some simpler way of doing it all? Why did
things have to be so mixed up that a man like myself couldn't have a
single clear decent thought?

More than that, why weren't people a real part of the world? Why didn't
they show more honest-to-God response? When you slept with a woman,
why was it something you had and she didn't? Why, when you went to a
prize fight, were the bruisers only so much meat, and the crowd a lot
of little screaming popinjays? Why was a war nothing but blather and
blowup and bother? Why'd everybody have to go through their whole lives
so dead, doing everything so methodical and prissy like a Sunday School
picnic or an orphan's parade?

       *       *       *       *       *

And then, when I was reading one of the science books, it came to me.
The answer was all there, printed out plain to see only nobody saw it.
It was just this: Nobody was really alive.

Back of other people's foreheads there weren't any real thoughts or
minds, or love or fear, to explain things. The whole universe--stars
and men and dirt and worms and atoms, the whole shooting match--was
just one great big engine. It didn't take mind or life or anything else
to run the engine. It just ran.

Now one thing about science. It doesn't lie. Those men who wrote those
science books that showed me the answer, they had no more minds than
anybody else. Just darkness in their brains, but because they were
machines built to use science, they couldn't help but get the right
answers. They were like the electric brains they've got now, but hadn't
then, that give out the right answer when you feed in the question. I'd
like to feed in the question, "What's Life?" to one of those machines
and see what came out. Just figures, I suppose. I read somewhere that
if a billion monkeys had typewriters and kept pecking away at them
they'd eventually turn out all the Encyclopedia Brittanica in trillions
and trillions of years. Well, they've done it all right, and in jig
time.

They're doing it now.

A lot of philosophy and psychology books I worked through really fit
in beautifully. There was Watson's _Behaviorism_ telling how we needn't
even assume that people are conscious to explain their actions. There
was Leibitz's _Monadology_, with its theory that we're all of us lonely
atoms that are completely out of touch and don't effect each other in
the slightest, but only seem to ... because all our little clockwork
motors were started at the same time in pre-established harmony. We
_seem_ to be responding to each other, but actually we're just a bunch
of wooden-minded puppets. Jerk one puppet up into the flies and the
others go on acting as if exactly nothing at all had happened.

So there it was all laid out for me (the Professor went on, carefully
pinching out the end of his cigarette). That was why there was no
honest-to-God response in people. They were machines.

The fighters were machines made for fighting. The people that watched
them were machines for stamping and screaming and swearing. The bankers
had banking cogs in their bellies, the crooks had crooked cams. A woman
was just a loving machine, all nicely adjusted to give you a good time
(sometimes!) but the farthest star was nearer to you than the mind
behind that mouth you kissed.

See what I mean? People just machines, set to do a certain job and
then quietly rust away. If you kept on being the machine you were
supposed to be, well and good. Then your actions fitted with other
people's. But if you didn't, if you started doing something else, then
the others didn't respond. They just went on doing what was called for.

It wouldn't matter what you did, they'd just go on making the motions
they were set to make. They might be set to make love, and you might
decide you wanted to fight. They'd go on making love while you fought
them. Or it might happen the other way--seems to, more often!

Or somebody might be talking about Edison. And you'd happen to say
something about Ingersoll. But he'd just go on talking about Edison.

You were all alone.

       *       *       *       *       *

Except for a few others--not more than one in a hundred thousand, I
guess--who wake up and figure things out. And they mostly go crazy and
run themselves to death, or else turn mean. Mostly they turn mean. They
get a cheap little kick out of pushing things around that can't push
back. All over the world you find them--little gangs of three or four,
half a dozen--who've waked up, but just to their cheap kicks. Maybe
it's a couple of coppers in 'Frisco, a schoolteacher in K.C., some
artists in New York, some rich kids in Florida, some undertakers in
London--who've found that all the people walking around are just dead
folk and to be treated no decenter, who see how bad things are and get
their fun out of making it a little worse. Just a mean _little_ bit
worse. They don't dare to destroy in a big way, because they know the
machine feeds them and tends them, and because they're always scared
they'd be noticed by gangs like themselves and wiped out. They haven't
the guts to really wreck the whole shebang. But they get a kick out of
scribbling their dirty pictures on it, out of meddling and messing with
it.

I've seen some of their fun, as they call it, sometimes hidden away,
sometimes in the open streets.

You've seen a clerk dressing a figure in a store window? Well, suppose
he slapped its face. Suppose a kid stuck pins in a calico pussy-cat, or
threw pepper in the eyes of a doll.

No decent live man would have anything to do with nickel sadism or dime
paranoia like that. He'd either go back to his place in the machine and
act out the part set for him, or else he'd hide away like me and live
as quiet as he could, not stirring things up. Like a mouse in a dynamo
or an ant in an atomics plant.

(The Professor went to the window and opened it, letting the sour old
smoke out and the noises of the city in.)

       *       *       *       *       *

Listen (he said), listen to the great mechanical symphony, the big
black combo. The airplanes are the double bass. Have you noticed how
you can always hear one nowadays? When one walks out of the sky another
walks in.

Presses and pumps round out the bass section. Listen to them rumble
and thump! Tonight they've got an old steam locomotive helping. Maybe
they're giving a benefit show for the old duffer.

Cars and traffic--they're the strings. Mostly cellos and violas. They
purr and wail and whine and keep trying to get out of their section.

Brasses? To me the steel-on-steel of streetcars and El trains always
sounds like trumpets and cornets. Strident, metallic, fiery cold.

Hear that siren way off? It's a clarinet. The ship horns are tubas,
the diesel horn's an oboe. And that lovely dreadful french horn is an
electric saw cutting down the last tree.

But what a percussion section they've got! The big stuff, like
streetcar bells jangling, is easy to catch, but you have to really
listen to get the subtleties--the buzz of a defective neon sign, the
click of a stoplight changing.

Sometimes you do get human voices, I'll admit, but they're not like
they are in Beethoven's _Ninth_ or Holst's _Planets_.

_There's_ the real sound of the universe (the Professor concluded,
shutting the window). That's your heavenly choir. That's the music
of the spheres the old alchemists kept listening for--if they'd just
stayed around a little longer they'd all have been deafened by it. Oh,
to think that Schopenhauer was bothered by the crack of carters' whips!

And now it's time for this mouse to tuck himself in his nest in the
dynamo. Good night, gentlemen!





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