2001-A Space Odyssey

    3 - Academy




    Moon-Watcher and his companions had no recollection of what they had seen, after the crystal had ceased to cast its hypnotic spell over their minds and to experiment with their bodies. The next day, as they went out to forage, they passed it with scarcely a second thought; it was now part of the disregarded background of their lives. They could not eat it, and it could not eat them; therefore it was not important.


    Down at the river, the Others made their usual ineffectual threats. Their leader, a one-eared man-ape of Moon-Watcher's size and age, but in poorer condition, even made a brief foray toward the tribe's territory, screaming loudly and waving his arms in an attempt to scare the opposition and to bolster his own courage.


    The water of the stream was nowhere more than a foot deep, but the farther One-Ear moved out into it, the more uncertain and unhappy he became. Very soon he slowed to a halt, and then moved back, with exaggerated dignity, to join his companions.


    Otherwise, there was no change in the normal routine. The tribe gathered just enough nourishment to survive for another day, and no one died.


    And that night, the crystal slab was still waiting; surrounded by its pulsing aura of light and sound. The program it had contrived, however, was now subtly different.


    Some, of the man-apes it ignored completely, as if it was concentrating on the most promising subjects.


    One of them was Moon-Watcher; once again he felt inquisitive tendrils creeping down the unused byways of his brain. And presently, he began to see visions. They might have been within the crystal block; they might have been wholly inside his mind. In any event, to Moon-Watcher they were completely real. Yet somehow the usual automatic impulse to drive off invaders of his territory had been lulled into quiescence.


    He was looking at a peaceful family group, differing in only one respect from the scenes he knew. The male, female, and two infants that had mysteriously appeared before him were gorged and replete, with sleek and glossy pelts - and this was a condition of life that Moon-Watcher had never imagined. Unconsciously, he felt his own protruding ribs; the ribs of these creatures were hidden in rolls of fat. From time to time they stirred lazily, as they lolled at ease near the entrance of a cave, apparently at peace with the world. Occasionally; the big male emitted a monumental burp of contentment.


    There was no other activity, and after five minutes the scene suddenly faded out. The crystal was no more than a glimmering outline in the darkness; Moon-Watcher shook himself as if awaking from a dream, abruptly realized where he was, and led the tribe back to the caves.


    He had no conscious memory of what he had seen; but that night, as he sat brooding at the entrance of his lair, his ears attuned to the noises of the world around him, Moon-Watcher felt the first faint twinges of a new and potent emotion. It was a vague and diffuse sense of envy - of dissatisfaction with his life. He had no idea of its cause, still less of its cure; but discontent had  come into his soul, and he had taken one small step toward humanity.


     Night after night, the spectacle of those four plump man-apes was repeated, until it had become a source of fascinated exasperation, serving to increase Moon-Watcher's eternal, gnawing hunger. The evidence of his eyes could not have produced this effect; it needed psychological reinforcement. There were gaps in Moon-Watcher's life now that he would never remember, when the very atoms of his simple brain were being twisted into new patterns. If he survived, those patterns would become eternal, for his genes would pass them on to future generations.


    It was a slow, tedious business, but the crystal monolith was patient. Neither it, nor its replicas scattered across half the globe, expected to succeed with all the scores of groups involved in the experiment. A hundred failures would not matter, when a single success could change the destiny of the world.


    By the time of the next new moon, the tribe had seen one birth and two deaths. One of these had been due to starvation; the other had occurred during the nightly ritual, when a man-ape had suddenly collapsed while attempting to tap two pieces of stone delicately together. At once, the crystal had darkened, and the tribe had been released from the spell. But the fallen man-ape had not moved; and by the morning, of course, the body was gone.


    There had been no performance the next night; the crystal was still analyzing its mistake. The tribe streamed past it through the gathering dusk, ignoring its presence completely. The night after, it was ready for them again. The four plump man-apes were still there, and now they were doing extraordinary things. Moon-Watcher began to tremble uncontrollably; he felt as if his brain would burst, and wanted to turn away his eyes. But that remorseless mental control would not relax its grip; he was compelled to follow the lesson to the end, though all his instincts revolted against it.


    Those instincts had served his ancestors well, in the days of warm rains and lush fertility, when food was to be had everywhere for the plucking. Now times had changed, and the inherited wisdom of the past had become folly. The man-apes must adapt, or they must die - like the greater beasts who had gone before them, and whose bones now lay sealed within the limestone hills.


    So Moon-Watcher stared at the crystal monolith with unblinking eyes, while his brain lay open to its still uncertain manipulations. Often he felt nausea, but always he felt hunger; and from time to time his hands clenched unconsciously in the patterns that would determine his new way of life.




    As the line of warthogs moved snuffling and grunting across the trail, Moon-Watcher came to a sudden halt. Pigs and man-apes had always ignored each other, for there was no conflict of interest between them. Like most animals that did not compete for the same food, they merely kept out of each other's way.


    Yet now Moon-Watcher stood looking at them, wavering back and forth uncertainly as he was buffeted by impulses which he could not understand, Then, as if in a dream, he started searching the ground - though for what, he could not have explained even if he had had the power of speech. He would recognize it when he saw it.


    It was a heavy, pointed stone about six inches long, and though it did not fit his hand perfectly, it would do. As he swung his hand around, puzzled by its suddenly increased weight, he felt a pleasing sense of power and authority. He started to move toward the nearest pig.


    It was a young and foolish animal, even by the undemanding standards of warthog intelligence. Though it observed him out of the corner of its eye, it did not take him seriously until much too late. Why should it suspect these harmless creatures of any evil intent? It went on rooting up the grass until Moon-Watcher's stone hammer obliterated its dim consciousness. The remainder of the herd continued grazing unalarmed, for the murder had been swift and silent.


    All the other man-apes in the group had stopped to watch, and now they crowded round Moon-Watcher and his victim with admiring wonder. Presently one of them picked up the blood-stained weapon, and began to pound the dead pig. Others joined in with any sticks and stones that they could gather, until theirt target began a messy disintegration.


    Then they became bored; some wandered off, while others stood hesitantly around the unrecognizable corpse - the future of a world waiting upon their decision. It was a surprisingly long time before one of the nursing females began to lick the gory stone she was holding in her paws.


    And it was longer still before Moon-Watcher, despite all that he had been shown, really understood that he need never be hungry again.