23. The Face
Time turned on and on upon its axis where we slept.
Time flowed like a river, wheeled like a sphere, moved like a galaxy through its own unimaginable dimensions toward its own inexorable ends. Motionless at the heart of motion, we slept on.
I think I dreamed.
Perhaps it was a dream in which the waters of time parted above us like a Red Sea parting and, through the walls of water, inquiring faces looked down into mine, mouthed words in unknown languages that came to me faintly from far away. If it was a dream, the dream wore thin for an interval and I could almost hear them, almost feel their hands on me, tugging me awake.
And then, among them, a deep serene powerful command seemed to break and through the parted waters of sleep and time I looked up dimly into the face I had last seen beneath the cocoon of fight, still in its natal slumber. But this time I saw the calm quicksilver eyes and heard the calm voice running deep with power.
The eyes met mine. Their command was irresistible, and the command was—
The waters closed over me again …
As dreams repeat themselves in interrupted slumber, it seemed to me that this dream returned. The quiet of turning time wore thin and I looked up again into inquisitive faces seen from far away, felt inquisitive hands plucking me awake. But these were strange faces, so strange I was startled a little out of my oblivion and all but sat up in my shock as I saw them.
Above the clustering misshapen heads the great calm figure of the Man-Machine loomed. I knew him by his eyes and by the deep humming tide of power that flowed from his mind to mine, silencing the chatter, healing over the breach in time. But I would not have known him, I think, except for that.
For long eons had passed in that measureless interval. The serene face was changing. But the tide of his command had not changed at all. He still said to me, “Sleep,” and I slept again.
Once more the dream returned. This time it was not faces that looked down at me but small, sharp, twinkling lights, insistent, deeply troubling. And as I roused enough to turn my head aside, trying to escape them, I had one glimpse of quicksilver eyes beneath calm brows, one remote echo of a voice that rolled like thunder. The lights vanished like candle-flames in a hurricane.
The thunder was so deep that it had tangible volume, rolled from a tangible source. I knew how mighty the source was. I knew, from that glimpse of the quicksilver eyes, how tremendously they had changed. The Man-Machine was no longer the size and shape of man. The face had changed, the functions had changed, the size was too vast for my dazed mind to comprehend.
“Sleep,” the thunder commanded through diminishing vistas of space and time. And this time I sank into depths so profound that no dreams could plumb them.
I had thought that, when the time came, I would have much to write about the Face of Ea, that stands in the twilight of the world’s end. But now, when I try, the words are hard to find. I have seen things no human being ever saw before. But the paradox is that it can’t be communicated. Between experience and inexperience lies a gulf that can be bridged in one way and one way only.
You would have to go, as we went, to time’s end and stand before the Face of Ea. Then I could tell you what I saw—and then I wouldn’t need to tell you, for you would know.
The long, long sleep drained slowly out of my mind, like water receding down a sloping beach, leaving me stranded in a place I had never seen before. This was the time-axis—but it had changed. I looked with blank eyes around the dome that closed us in, a thin, gray dome through which red light filtered. We were no longer underground. I suppose the mountains had worn away, grain by grain, while we slept.
Murray’s was the first face I saw. I thought to myself, “Is it Murray this time or is it Paynter?” I watched him sit up on the gray floor, rubbing his face dazedly, his flesh pink in that filtering light. And I never knew whether it was Murray or Paynter.
Beyond him De Kalb looked at me with metallic eyes, smiled and sat up. And Topaz lifted her bright curls from the dusty floor and turned swiftly from face to face, a glance that combined Letta Essen and herself in indissoluble unison.
“Are we there?” she asked in a soft voice.
For answer I gestured toward the gray dome that shut us in, the world outside the dome.
As far as we could see, in every direction but one, the world lay flat and gray with a surface very familiar to us all in one way or another. A glazed grayness, solid, through which veins of rosy color, like curled hair, twined at random. The world was all nekronic matter now—except for one other thing.
We looked up at the Face of Ea, and we were silent.
As we looked, the dome above us shimmered, thinned, was gone. Down upon us the red twilight poured unbroken. It was faintly warm upon the skin. A very faint wind blew past us and I can remember still the strange hollow odors it carried, wholly unlike anything I had ever scented before from winds blowing over open country.
We did not speak again, any of us. The time for talk had passed and a higher authority from that moment took all initiative out of our hands. We looked up at the Face of Ea.
How can I tell you what it was like—now? You know how I saw it in the Record, when the images of this same scene recreated themselves in my mind and I looked up from this same spot, in a faraway age, into the towering Face. Even then I saw it as a Face far transcending the human, reflecting experiences unknown to my era and my world, complex beyond any possible human guessing.
When I looked up now and saw the vast cliffside rising above the gray nekronic plain, it was not as a Face I saw it. Not at first. It was too complex to be recognizable. It was shaped into equations so far beyond my comprehension that I could not read them in terms of a human likeness.
I suppose a Piltdown man, gazing from under his eye-ridges at the face of a Toynbee or an Einstein would realize only very remotely that this was the face of an evolved member of his own species. And there were greater gulfs than that between the Face and me.
You will have guessed already what likeness it was that I finally recognized. I should have guessed too. It was not very surprising, really. Belem had given me the clue. A city, he had told me, was simply a machine for human living, an extension of the Mechandroid organism. And this city, which was the Face. It looked down at us with a vast calm gaze, the same gaze that had brooded over our slumbers while time turned on its axis where we slept. The eyes that had once been quicksilver metal were very different now but I knew that gaze. The voice that had once run deeper and deeper with the volume of its power was a voice no longer, for it had passed beyond the need for a voice. The thing that had once been a Man-Machine had grown, developed, changed, synthesized with all of human living as the millennia went by.
Its functions had broadened to encompass every aspect of the civilizations through which it passed.
I understood very little of the complex symbiosis which had taken place, and I can convey only a very small part of what I understood. For mankind had changed too. Perhaps love and hate and fear survived but not in the forms we know. Perhaps human features were not so different as we imagined. Perhaps, through the streets and plazas of the city, which had begun as a Man-Machine and was now the cradle of the surviving race, men and women like ourselves really did move still.
I’m not sure. I walked the streets. But I am still not sure among what crowds I walked.
I’ve said the Face no longer needed a voice. This is why. In the old days I suppose the Man-Machine would have said, “Come,” when it wanted us nearer. Now in effect it said, “Come”—and we came. But not on foot. Not under our own directions.
A whole segment of unnecessary, primitive activities was simply eliminated. There was no need for the clumsy human mechanisms to hear the summons, comprehend it, consider it, debate obeying, decide to comply, set muscles in motion and trudge across the plain.
Instead, the Face issued its voiceless command—and there was a sort of vortex in the red twilight air between the cliff-side and ourselves. Smoothly, gently, inexorably, we were drawn up along that spinning of the air, seeing the gray earth fall away beneath us and then slide backward with blurring swiftness. The Face grew startlingly larger, too large to see as a whole, large and near and very clear.
We lost sight of the tremendous serene brow, of the vast smooth chin, of the great downward slope of the nose, of the cheeks etched with experiences which no human and no machine could ever have known separately.
Walls of rock rushed at us, opened, sucked us in.
What did I see? I wish I could tell you. I can make useless sketches in the air with both hands, trying to show how the spiral streets sloped and how the blurred house-fronts slid past. But if I did you would picture ordinary house-fronts and a street that curved but was like any street you know. And these were too different to describe.
It may be that the street really did move with all its strange shapely houses. I have an idea that the whole interior of the city was actually in constant motion, as a machine might be, and that if motion ceased they would cease too, the city and the race of man.
But I can tell you this much. Ideas blew through that city like puffs of smoke through an industrial town. They brushed my mind and were gone, leaving only bewildering fragments in their wake. Sometimes they brushed two of us at once and we had incredible glimpses into one another’s minds wherever the idea touched, evoking mutual memories, interlocking thoughts like rings that spread in water.
De Kalb had said, long ago, that these men were gods. He was right. They were far beyond any concept the men of my day had ever dreamed of for his gods. We walked through their city, were brushed by their thoughts, breathed the air of their streets, but we never saw them.
They were there. They were all around us. I am perfectly sure of that. I didn’t see them. I didn’t feel or hear them. But I knew they were there as surely as you know the chair in which you sit now has a back upon which you are leaning, though you won’t see it unless you turn.
I had constantly the odd feeling that if I could turn I might come face to face with any man of the city I chose. But I was not capable of turning in the necessary direction, which would probably have been through a dimension we know nothing of.
I wish I could have seen them.