It was a strange and bitter Earth over which the Chancellor ruled—a strange
and deformed world. There were times when the Chancellor suspected that he
really was a humanistic old fool, but this seemed to be his destiny and it was
difficult to be anything else. Human, like all other organic life on Earth, was
dying. Where it spawned, it spawned monsters. What was to be the answer?
by ... Sam Merwin, Jr.
It was a lonely thing to rule over a dying world—a
world that had become sick, so terribly sick....
The Chancellor's private washroom,
discreetly off the innermost
of his official suite of offices, was a
dream of gleaming black porcelain
and solid gold. Each spout, each
faucet, was a gracefully stylized
mermaid, the combination stall
shower-steam room a marvel of
hydraulic comfort and decor with
variable lighting plotted to give the
user every sort of beneficial ray,
from ultraviolet to black heat.
But Bliss was used to it. At the
moment, as he washed his hands,
he was far more concerned with
the reflection of his face in the
mirror above the dolphin-shaped
bowl. With a sort of wry resignation,
he accepted the red rims of
fatigue around his eyes, the batch
of white at his left temple that was
spreading toward the top of his
dark, well-groomed head. He noted
that the lines rising from the corners
of his mouth to the curves of
his nostrils seemed to have deepened
noticeably during the past few
As he dried his hands in the air-stream,
he told himself that he was
letting his imagination run away
with him—imagination had always
been his weakness, and a grave
failing for a head of state. And
while he drew on his special, featherweight
gloves, he reminded himself
that, if he was aging prematurely,
it was nobody's fault but his
own. No other man or woman approaching
qualification for the job
would have taken it—only a sentimental,
humanistic fool like himself.
He took a quick sip from the
benzedral fountain, waited for the
restorative to do its work. Then,
feeling moderately refreshed, he
returned to his office, sank into the
plastifoam cushions of the chair
behind his tabletop mountain of a
desk and pressed the button that
informed Myra, his confidential
secretary, he was ready.
There were five in the delegation—by
their collars or robes, a
priest, a rabbi, a lama, a dark-skinned
Watusi witchman and a
white robed abbess draped in
chaste, flowing white. Automatically,
he surveyed them, checking. The
priest's right shoe was twice as
broad as his left, the rabbi's head,
beneath the black cap that covered
it, was long and thin as a zucchini
squash. The witchman, defiantly
bare and black as ebony from the
waist up, had a tiny duplicate of his
own handsome head sprouting from
the base of his sternum. The visible
deformities of the lama and abbess
were concealed beneath their flowing
robes. But they were there—they
had to be there.
Bliss rose as they entered and
said, waving a gloved hand at the
chairs on their side of the desk,
"Greetings, sirs and madam—please
be seated." And, when they
were comfortable, "Now, to what
do I owe the honor of this visit?"
He knew, of course—sometimes
he thought he knew more than any
man should be allowed or able to
know—but courtesy and custom demanded
the question. It was the
witchman who answered. Apparently
he was spokesman for the group.
He said, speaking beautiful
Cantabrigian English, "Honorable
sir, we have come as representatives
of the religions of the world, not
to protest but in a spirit of enquiry.
Our flocks grow increasingly restive,
when they are not leaving us
altogether, our influence grows less.
We wish to know what steps, if
any, are being taken toward modification
or abrogation of the sterility
program. Without hope of posterity,
mankind is lost."
While the others murmured their
agreement, Bliss focused his gaze
on the sealed lids of the tiny face
sprouting from the Watusi's breastbone.
He wondered if there were
eyes behind them, if there were a
tongue behind those tiny clamped
lips, and what words such a tongue
would utter if it could speak.
"We are waiting, honorable sir,"
the spokesman said.
Shaking himself free of the absorption,
Bliss glanced at the teleprompter
on his desk. Efficient as
ever, Myra had their names there
before him. He said, "Gentle
R'hau-chi, I believe a simple exposition
of our situation, and of
what programs we are seeking to
meet and mitigate it with, will
give you the answers. Not, perhaps,
the answers you seek, but the answers
we must accept ..."
Although the reports from
World Laboratories changed from
day to day, he knew the speech by
heart. For the problem remained.
Humanity, like virtually all other
organic life on Earth, was dying.
Where it spawned, it spawned monsters.
On three-dimensional vidar
rolls, he showed them live shots of
what the laboratories were doing,
what they were trying to do—in
the insemination groups, the incubators,
the ray-bombardment chambers,
the parthenogenesis bureau.
Studying them, he could see by
their expressions, hear by the prayers
they muttered, how shocking
these revelations were. It was one
thing to know what was going on—another
for them to see for themselves.
It was neither pretty—nor
When it was over, the rabbi
spoke. He said, in deep, slightly
guttural, vastly impressive intonations,
"What about Mars, honorable
sir? Have you reached communication
with our brothers and
sisters on the red planet?"
Bliss shook his head. He glanced
at the alma-calendar at his elbow
and told them, "Mars continues to
maintain silence—as it has for two
hundred and thirty-one years. Ever
since the final war."
They knew it, but they had to
hear it from him to accept it even
briefly. There was silence, long
wretched silence. Then the abbess
spoke. She said, "Couldn't we send
out a ship to study conditions first
hand, honorable sir?"
Bliss sighed. He said, "The last
four spaceships on Earth were sent
to Mars at two-year intervals during
the last perihelions. Not one of
them came back. That was more
than a half century ago. Since I
accepted this office, I have had some
of our ablest remaining scientific
brains working on the problem of
building a new ship. They have
not been successful." He laid his
gloved hands, palms upward, on
the desk, added, "It appears that
we have lost the knack for such
When they were gone, he walked
to the broad window and looked
out over the World Capital buildings
at the verdant Sahara that
stretched hundreds of miles to the
foot of the faintly purple Atlas
Mountains on the northwestern
horizon. A blanket of brilliant
green, covering what had once been
the greatest of all Earthly deserts—but
a poisonous blanket of strange
plant mutations, some of them
poisonous beyond belief.
Truly, Bliss thought, he belonged
to a remarkable species. Man
had conquered his environment, he
had even, within the limits of the
Solar System, conquered space. He
had planted, and successfully, his
own kind on a neighboring planet
and made it grow. But man had
never, at least on his home planet,
Overpopulation had long since
ceased to be a problem—the atomic
wars had seen to that. But, thanks
to the miracles of science—atomics
and automation—man had quickly
rebuilt the world into a Garden of
Eden with up-to-date plumbing.
He might have won two planets,
but he had turned his Eden into
an arbor of deadly nightshade.
Oddly, it had not been the dreadful
detonations of thermo-nuclear
bombs that had poisoned his paradise—though,
of course, they had
helped. It had been the constant
spillage of atomic waste into the
upper atmosphere that had spelled
ruin. Now, where four billion people
had once lived in war and
want, forty million lived in poisoned
plenty. He was chancellor of a
planet whose ruling species could
not longer breed without disaster.
His was the last generation. It
should have been a peaceful generation.
But it was not.
For, as population decreased, so
did the habitable areas of Earth.
The formerly overpopulated temperate
regions were now ghastly
jungles of self-choking mutant
plant growth. Only what had been
the waste areas—Antarctica, the
Gobi, Australia, Patagonia and the
Sahara-Arabia districts—could still
support even the strange sorts of
human life that remained.
And the forty millions still alive
were restless, frightened, paranoiac.
Each believed his own group was
being systematically exterminated
in favor of some other. None had
yet faced the fact that humanity,
for all practical purposes, was already
dead on Earth.
He sensed another presence in
the room. It was Myra, his secretary,
bearing a sheaf of messages
in one hand, a sheaf of correspondence
for him to sign in the other.
She said, "You look beat, chancellor.
Bliss sat down. Myra, as his
faithful and efficient amanuensis
for more than fifteen years, had her
rights. One of them was taking
care of him during working hours.
She was still rather pretty, he noted
with surprise. An Afro-Asian with
skin like dark honey and smooth,
pleasant, rather flat features. It was,
he thought, a pity she had that third
eye in her forehead.
She stood beside him while he
ran through the letters and signed
them. "Meeting of the regional
vice-chancellors tomorrow, eh?" he
said as he handed them back to her.
"Right, chancellor," she said
crisply. "Ten o'clock. You may
have to take another whirlwind
trip to tell them the situation is
well in hand."
He grunted and glanced at the
messages, scanned them quickly,
tossed them into the disposal vent
beside his desk. Myra looked moderately
disapproving. "What about
that possible ship from Mars?" she
asked. "Shouldn't you look into
He grunted again, looked up at
her, said, "If I'd looked into every
'ship from Mars' astronomy has
come up with in the nine years
I've held this office, I'd never have
had time for anything else. You
can lay odds it's a wild asteroid or
something like that."
"They sound pretty sure this
time," Myra said doubtfully.
"Don't they always?" he countered.
"Come on, Myra, wrap it up.
Time to go home."
"Roger, boss," she said, blinking
all three eyes at him.
Bliss turned on the autopi and
napped while the gyrojet carried
him to his villa outside Dakar.
Safely down on the roof of the
comfortable, automatic white house,
he took the lift down to his second-floor
suite, where he showered and
changed into evening sandals and
clout. He redonned his gloves, then
rode down another two flights to
the terrace, where Elise was waiting
for him in a gossamer-thin iridescent
eggshell sari. They kissed
and she patted the place on the
love-seat beside her. She had a
book—an old-fashioned book of
colored reproductions of long-since-destroyed
old masters on her lap.
The artist was a man named Peter
Eyeing the opulent nudes, she
giggled and said, "Don't they look
awfully—plain? I mean, women
with only two breasts!"
"Well—yes," he said. "If you
want to take that angle."
"Idiot!" she said. "Honestly,
darling, you're the strangest sort of
man to be a World Chancellor."
"These are strange times," he
told her, smiling without mirth,
though with genuine affection.
"Suppose—just suppose," she
said, turning the pages slowly,
"biology should be successful in
stabilizing the species again. Would
they have to set it back that far?
I mean, either we or they would
feel awfully out of style."
"What would you suggest?" he
asked her solemnly.
"Don't be nasty," she said loftily.
Then she giggled again and
ruffled his hair. "I wish you'd have
it dyed one color," she told him.
"Either black or gray—or why not
a bright puce?"
"What's for dinner?" he asked,
adding, "If I can still eat after that."
The regional vice-chancellors
were awaiting him in the next-to-the-innermost
office when Bliss arrived
at World Capital the next
morning. Australia, Antarctica,
Patagonia, Gobi, Sahara-Arabia—they
followed him inside like so
many penguins in the black-and-white
official robes. All were deathly
serious as they stated their problems.
Gobi wanted annual rainfall cut
from 60 to 45 centimeters.
Sahara-Arabia was not receiving
satisfactory food synthetics—there
had been Moslem riots because of
pork flavor in the meat.
Patagonia was suffering through
a species of sport-worm that was
threatening to turn it into a desert
if biology didn't come up with a
Antarctica wanted temperature
lowered from a nighttime norm of
62° Fahrenheit to 57.6°. It seemed
that the ice in the skating rinks,
which were the chief source of
exercise and entertainment for the
populace, got mushy after ten p.m.
Australia wanted the heavy uranium
deposits under the Great
Central Desert neutralized against
its causing further mutations.
For a moment, Bliss was tempted
to remind his viceroys that it was
not going to make one bit of difference
whether they made their
spoiled citizens happy or not. The
last man on Earth would be dead
within fifty years or so, anyway.
But that would have been an unpardonable
breach of taste. Everyone
knew, of course, but it was
never mentioned. To state the truth
was to deny hope. And without
hope, there was no life.
Bliss promised to see that these
matters were tended to at once, taking
each in turn. This done, they
discussed his making another whirlwind
trip through the remaining
major dominions of the planet to
bolster morale. He was relieved
when at last, the amenities concluded,
the penguins filed solemnly
out. He didn't know which he
found more unattractive—Gobi's
atrophied third leg, strapped tightly
to the inside of his left thigh
and calf, or Australia's jackass ears.
Then, sternly, he reminded himself
that it was not their fault they
weren't as lucky as himself.
Myra came in, her three eyes
aglow, and said, "Boss, you were
wrong for once in your life."
"What is it this time?" he asked.
"About that Martian ship," she
repeated. "It just landed on the
old spaceport. You can see it from
"For God's sake!" Bliss was on
his feet, moving swiftly to the window.
It was there—needle-nosed,
slim as one of the mermaids in his
private washroom, graceful as a
vidar dancer. The entire length of
it gleamed like silver in the sunlight.
Bliss felt the premature old age
that had been crowding upon him
of late fall away like the wool of
a sheep at shearing. Here, at last,
was hope—real hope. After almost
two and a half centuries of non-communication,
the men of the infant
planet had returned to the aid
of the aging planet. For, once they
saw the condition of Earth, and
understood it, there could be no
question of anything else.
Mars, during the years of space-flight
from Earth, had been the
outlet for the mother planet's
ablest, toughest, brightest, most
aggressive young men and women.
They had gone out to lick a hostile
environment, they had been hand-picked
for the job—and they had
done it. The ship, out there in the
poisonous Sahara, was living proof
of their success.
He turned from the window and
went back to his desk. He said,
"Myra, have their leader brought
here to see me as soon as possible."
"Roger!" she said, leaving him
swiftly, gracefully. Again he
thought it was too bad about her
third eye. It had made it awfully
hard for her to find a husband. He
supposed he should be grateful,
since it had made him an incomparably
The young man was space-burned
and silver-blond of hair. He was
broad and fair of feature and his
body was tall and lean and perfect
in his black, skin-tight uniform
with the silver rocket-burst on the
left breast. He stood at attention,
lifted a gauntleted hand in salute
and said, "Your excellency, Chancellor
Yaelstrom of Syrtis City, Mars,
bearing official rank of Inter-planetary
legate plenipotentiary. My
He stood stiff as a ramrod and
laid a set of imposing-looking documents
on the vast desk before Bliss.
His accent was stiff as his spinal
column. Bliss glanced casually at
the papers, nodded and handed
them back. So this, he thought, was
how a "normal," a pre-atomic, a
non-mutated human, looked. Impressive.
Catching himself wandering, he
pushed a box of costly smokes toward
"Nein—no thank you, sir," was
"Suppose you sit down and tell
me what we can do for you," said
Bliss, motioning toward a chair.
"Thank you, sir, I prefer to
stand," was the reply. And, when
Bliss motioned that it was all right,
"My mission is not a happy one,
excellency. Due to overpopulation
on Mars, I have been sent to inform
the government of Earth that
room must be made to take care of
"I see," Bliss leaned back in his
chair, trying to read the situation
correctly. "That may take a little
doing. You see, we aren't exactly
awash with real estate here."
The reply was rigid and harsh.
Captain Yaelstrom said, "I regret
to remind your excellency that I
have circled this planet before landing.
It is incredibly rich in plant
growth, incredibly underpopulated.
And I assure your excellency that
my superiors have not sent me here
with any idle request. Mars must
have room to emigrate."
"And if we find ourselves unable
to give it to you?"
"I fear we shall have to take it,
Bliss studied the visitor from
space, then said, "This is rather
sudden, you know. I fear it will
take time. You must have prospered
amazingly on Mars to have
overpopulated the planet so soon."
"Conditions have not been
wholly favorable," was the cryptic
reply. "But as to time, we are
scarcely in condition to move our
surplus population overnight. It
will take years—perhaps decades—twenty-five
years at a minimum."
Twenty-five years! That was too
soon. If Captain Yaelstrom were
a typical Martian, there was going
to be trouble. Bliss recalled again
that Earth had sent only its most
aggressive young folk out to the
red planet. He made up his mind
then and there that he was somehow
going to salvage for Earth its
final half-century of peace.
He said, "How many people do
you plan to send here, Captain?"
The ambassador hesitated. Then
he said, "According to the computations
of our experts, taking the
population curve during the next
twenty-five years into account, there
will be seventeen million, three
hundred thirty-two thousand five
The figure was too large to be
surplus, Bliss decided. It sounded
to him as if humanity were about
to abandon Mars completely. He
wondered what the devil had gone
wrong, decided this was hardly the
time to ask. He offered Captain
Yaelstrom a drink, which was refused,
then asked him if he wouldn't
like to wash up.
To his mild surprise, the ambassador
nodded eagerly. "I shall be
grateful," he said. "You have no
idea how cramped spaceship quarters
"I can imagine," said Bliss dryly.
He led the way into the black-and-gold
washroom, was amused
at the slight but definite popping
of ambassadorial eyes. Earth might
be dying, he thought, but at least
her destroyers would leave a heritage.
He motioned toward the basin
with its mermaid taps and Captain
Yaelstrom hesitated, then began
pulling off his black gauntlets.
Bliss thought of something.
"You mentioned twenty-five years,"
he said. "Is that Martian time or
"Martian time," said the ambassador,
letting the water run over
Twenty-five years, Martian time—a
Martian year was 1.88 Earth
years. Bliss exhaled and said, "I
think perhaps we shall be able to
come to an agreement. It will take
a little time, of course—channels,
and all that."
The Martian held his hands in
front of the air-drier. They were
strong, brown hands with long,
muscular fingers. Bliss looked at
them and knew the whole story.
For, like himself, Captain Yaelstrom
had seven fingers on each.
Man had done no better on Mars
than he had at home. The reason
for such a desperate move as emigration
was all too clear.
Captain Yaelstrom stood back
from the bowl, then noticed the
stall shower. He said, "What is
this? We have nothing like it on
Bliss explained its several therapeutic
uses, then said, "Perhaps
you'd like to try it yourself while
I order us luncheon."
"May I, excellency?" the Martian
legate asked eagerly.
"Go right ahead," said Bliss
magnanimously. "It's all yours."
This etext was produced from Fantastic Universe November 1956.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
typographical errors have been corrected without note.