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Youth, Page 2

Isaac Asimov



  The Astronomer entered the dining room with decorum. He felt very muchthe guest.

  He said, "Where are the youngsters? My son isn't in his room."

  The Industrialist smiled. "They've been out for hours. However,breakfast was forced into them among the women some time ago, so thereis nothing to worry about. Youth, Doctor, youth!"

  "Youth!" The word seemed to depress the Astronomer.

  They ate breakfast in silence. The Industrialist said once, "You reallythink they'll come. The day looks so--_normal_."

  The Astronomer said, "They'll come."

  That was all.

  Afterward the Industrialist said, "You'll pardon me. I can't conceiveyour playing so elaborate a hoax. You really spoke to them?"

  "As I speak to you. At least, in a sense. They can project thoughts."

  "I gathered that must be so from your letter. How, I wonder."

  "I could not say. I asked them and, of course, they were vague. Orperhaps it was just that I could not understand. It involves a projectorfor the focussing of thought and, even more than that, consciousattention on the part of both projector and receptor. It was quite awhile before I realized they were trying to think at me. Suchthought-projectors may be part of the science they will give us."

  "Perhaps," said the Industrialist. "Yet think of the changes it wouldbring to society. A thought-projector!"

  "Why not? Change would be good for us."

  "I don't think so."

  "It is only in old age that change is unwelcome," said the Astronomer,"and races can be old as well as individuals."

  The Industrialist pointed out the window. "You see that road. It wasbuilt Beforethewars. I don't know exactly when. It is as good now as theday it was built. We couldn't possibly duplicate it now. The race wasyoung when that was built, eh?"

  "Then? Yes! At least they weren't afraid of new things."

  "No. I wish they had been. Where is the society of Beforethewars?Destroyed, Doctor! What good were youth and new things? We are betteroff now. The world is peaceful and jogs along. The race goes nowhere butafter all, there is nowhere to go. _They_ proved that. The men who builtthe road. I will speak with your visitors as I agreed, if they come. ButI think I will only ask them to go."

  "The race is not going nowhere," said the Astronomer, earnestly. "It isgoing toward final destruction. My university has a smaller student bodyeach year. Fewer books are written. Less work is done. An old man sleepsin the sun and his days are peaceful and unchanging, but each day findshim nearer death all the same."

  "Well, well," said the Industrialist.

  "No, don't dismiss it. Listen. Before I wrote you, I investigated yourposition in the planetary economy."

  "And you found me solvent?" interrupted the Industrialist, smiling.

  "Why, yes. Oh, I see, you are joking. And yet--perhaps the joke is notfar off. You are less solvent than your father and he was less solventthan his father. Perhaps your son will no longer be solvent. It becomestoo troublesome for the planet to support even the industries that stillexist, though they are toothpicks to the oak trees of Beforethewars. Wewill be back to village economy and then to what? The caves?"

  "And the infusion of fresh technological knowledge will be the changingof all that?"

  "Not just the new knowledge. Rather the whole effect of change, of abroadening of horizons. Look, sir, I chose you to approach in thismatter not only because you were rich and influential with governmentofficials, but because you had an unusual reputation, for these days, ofdaring to break with tradition. Our people will resist change and youwould know how to handle them, how to see to it that--that--"

  "That the youth of the race is revived?"


  "With its atomic bombs?"

  "The atomic bombs," returned the Astronomer, "need not be the end ofcivilization. These visitors of mine had their atomic bomb, or whatevertheir equivalent was on their own worlds, and survived it, because theydidn't give up. Don't you see? It wasn't the bomb that defeated us, butour own shell shock. This may be the last chance to reverse theprocess."

  "Tell me," said the Industrialist, "what do these friends from spacewant in return?"

  The Astronomer hesitated. He said, "I will be truthful with you. Theycome from a denser planet. Ours is richer in the lighter atoms."

  "They want magnesium? Aluminum?"

  "No, sir. Carbon and hydrogen. They want coal and oil."


  The Astronomer said, quickly, "You are going to ask why creatures whohave mastered space travel, and therefore atomic power, would want coaland oil. I can't answer that."

  The Industrialist smiled. "But I can. This is the best evidence yet ofthe truth of your story. Superficially, atomic power would seem topreclude the use of coal and oil. However, quite apart from the energygained by their combustion they remain, and always will remain, thebasic raw material for all organic chemistry. Plastics, dyes,pharmaceuticals, solvents. Industry could not exist without them, evenin an atomic age. Still, if coal and oil are the low price for whichthey would sell us the troubles and tortures of racial youth, my answeris that the commodity would be dear if offered gratis."

  The Astronomer sighed and said, "There are the boys!"

  They were visible through the open window, standing together in thegrassy field and lost in animated conversation. The Industrialist's sonpointed imperiously and the Astronomer's son nodded and made off at arun toward the house.

  The Industrialist said, "There is the Youth you speak of. Our race hasas much of it as it ever had."

  "Yes, but we age them quickly and pour them into the mold."

  Slim scuttled into the room, the door banging behind him.

  The Astronomer said, in mild disapproval, "What's this?"

  Slim looked up in surprise and came to a halt. "I beg your pardon. Ididn't know anyone was here. I am sorry to have interrupted." Hisenunciation was almost painfully precise.

  The Industrialist said, "It's all right, youngster."

  But the Astronomer said, "Even if you had been entering an empty room,son, there would be no cause for slamming a door."

  "Nonsense," insisted the Industrialist. "The youngster has done no harm.You simply scold him for being young. You, with your views!"

  He said to Slim, "Come here, lad."

  Slim advanced slowly.

  "How do you like the country, eh?"

  "Very much, sir, thank you."

  "My son has been showing you about the place, has he?"

  "Yes, sir. Red--I mean--"

  "No, no. Call him Red. I call him that myself. Now tell me, what are youtwo up to, eh?"

  Slim looked away. "Why--just exploring, sir."

  The Industrialist turned to the Astronomer. "There you are, youthfulcuriosity and adventure-lust. The race has not yet lost it."

  Slim said, "Sir?"

  "Yes, lad."

  The youngster took a long time in getting on with it. He said, "Red sentme in for something good to eat, but I don't exactly know what he meant.I didn't like to say so."

  "Why, just ask cook. She'll have something good for young'uns to eat."

  "Oh, no, sir. I mean for animals."

  "For animals?"

  "Yes, sir. What do animals eat?"

  The Astronomer said, "I am afraid my son is city-bred."

  "Well," said the Industrialist, "there's no harm in that. What kind ofan animal, lad?"

  "A small one, sir."

  "Then try grass or leaves, and if they don't want that, nuts or berrieswould probably do the trick."

  "Thank you, sir." Slim ran out again, closing the door gently behindhim.

  The Astronomer said, "Do you suppose they've trapped an animal alive?"He was obviously perturbed.

  "That's common enough. There's no shooting on my estate and it's tamecountry, full of rodents and small creatures. Red is always coming homewith pets of one sort or another. They rarely maintain his interest forlong."

/>   He looked at the wall clock. "Your friends should have been here by now,shouldn't they?"


  The swaying had come to a halt and it was dark. The Explorer was notcomfortable in the alien air. It felt as thick as soup and he had tobreathe shallowly. Even so--

  He reached out in a sudden need for company. The Merchant was warm tothe touch. His breathing was rough, he moved in an occasional spasm, andwas obviously asleep. The Explorer hesitated and decided not to wakehim. It would serve