Chapter 3 THE OTHER EARTH

1. ON THE OTHER EARTH

AS I slowly descended toward the surface of the little planet, I found myself searching for a land which promised to be like England. But no sooner did I realize what I was doing than I reminded myself that conditions here would be entirely different from terrestrial conditions, and that it was very unlikely that I should find intelligent beings at all. If such beings existed, they would probably be quite incomprehensible to me. Perhaps they would be huge spiders or creeping jellies. How could I hope ever to make contact with such monsters?

After circling about at random for some time over the filmy clouds and the forests, over the dappled plains and prairies and the dazzling stretches of desert, I selected a maritime country in the temperate zone, a brilliantly green peninsula. When I had descended almost to the ground, I was amazed at the verdure of the country-side. Here unmistakably was vegetation, similar to ours in essential character, but quite unfamiliar in detail. The fat, or even bulbous, leaves reminded me of our desert-flora, but here the stems were lean and wiry. Perhaps the most striking character of this vegetation was its color, which was a vivid blue-green, like the color of vineyards that have been treated with copper salts. I was to discover later that the plants of this world had indeed learnt to protect themselves by means of copper sulphate from the microbes and the insect-like pests which formerly devastated this rather dry planet.

I skimmed over a brilliant prairie scattered with Prussian blue bushes. The sky also attained a depth of blue quite unknown on earth, save at great altitudes. There were a few low yet cirrus clouds, whose feathery character I took to be due to the tenuousness of the atmosphere. This was borne out by the fact that, though my descent had taken place in the forenoon of a summer’s day, several stars managed to pierce the almost nocturnal sky. All exposed surfaces were very intensely illuminated. The shadows of the nearer bushes were nearly black. Some distant objects, rather like buildings, but probably mere rocks, appeared to be blocked out in ebony and snow. Altogether the landscape was one of unearthly and fantastical beauty.

I glided with wingless flight over the surface of the planet, through glades, across tracts of fractured rock, along the banks of streams. Presently I came to a wide region covered by neat, parallel rows of fern-like plants, bearing masses of nuts on the lower surfaces of their leaves. It was almost impossible to believe that this vegetable regimentation had not been intelligently planned. Or could it after all be merely a natural phenomenon not known on my own planet? Such was my surprise that my power of locomotion, always subject to emotional interference, now began to fail me. I reeled in the air like a drunk man. Pulling myself together, I staggered on over the ranked crops toward a rather large object which lay some distance from me beside a strip of bare ground. Presently, to my amazement, my stupefaction, this object revealed itself as a plow. It was rather a queer instrument, but there was no mistaking the shape of the blade, which was rusty, and obviously made of iron. There were two iron handles, and chains for attachment to a beast of burden. It was difficult to believe that I was many light-years distant from England. Looking round, I saw an unmistakable cart track, and a bit of dirty ragged cloth hanging on a bush. Yet overhead was the unearthly sky, full noon with stars.

I followed the lane through a little wood of queer bushes, whose large fat drooping leaves had cherry-like fruits along their edges. Suddenly, round a bend in the lane, I came upon a man. Or so at first he seemed to my astounded and star-weary sight. I should not have been so surprised by the strangely human character of this creature had I at this early stage understood the forces that controlled my adventure. Influences which I shall later describe doomed me to discover first such worlds as were most akin to my own. Meanwhile the reader may well conceive my amazement at this strange encounter. I had always supposed that man was a unique being. An inconceivably complex conjunction of circumstances had produced him, and it was not to be supposed that such conditions would be repeated anywhere in the universe. Yet here, on the very first globe to be explored, was an obvious peasant. Approaching him, I saw that he was not quite so like terrestrial man as he seemed at a distance; but he was a man for all that. Had God, then, peopled the whole universe with our kind? Did he perhaps in very truth make us in his image? It was incredible. To ask such questions proved that I had lost my mental balance.

As I was a mere disembodied view-point, I was able to observe without being observed. I floated about him as he strode along the lane. He was an erect biped and in general plan definitely human. I had no means of judging his height, but he must have been approximately of normal terrestrial stature, or at least not smaller than a pigmy and not taller than a giant. He was of slender build. His legs were almost like a bird’s, and enclosed in rough narrow trousers. Above the waist he was naked, displaying a disproportionately large thorax, shaggy with greenish hair. He had two short but powerful arms, and huge shoulder muscles. His skin was dark and ruddy, and dusted plentifully with bright green down. All his contours were uncouth, for the details of muscles, sinews and joints were very plainly different from our own. His neck was curiously long and supple. His head I can best describe by saying that most of the brain-pan, covered with a green thatch, seemed to have slipped backwards and downwards over the nape. His two very human eyes peered from under the eaves of hair. An oddly projecting, almost spout-like mouth made him look as though he were whistling. Between the eyes, and rather above them, was a pair of great equine nostrils which were constantly in motion. The bridge of the nose was represented by an elevation in the thatch, reaching from the nostrils backwards over the top of the head. There were no visible ears. I discovered later that the auditory organs opened into the nostrils.

Clearly, although evolution on this Earth-like planet must have taken a course on the whole surprisingly like that which had produced my own kind, there must also have been many divergencies.

The stranger wore not only boots but gloves, seemingly ol tough leather. His boots were extremely short. I was to discover later that the feet of this race, the “Other Men,” as I called them, were rather like the feet of an ostrich or a camel. The instep consisted of three great toes grown together. In place of the heel there was an additional broad, stumpy toe. The hands were without palms. Each was a bunch of three gristly fingers and a thumb.

The aim of this book is not to tell of ray own adventures but to give some idea of the worlds which I visited. I shall therefore not recount in detail how I established myself among the Other Men. Of myself it is enough to say a few words. When I had studied this agriculturalist for a while, I began to be strangely oppressed by his complete unawareness, of myself. With painful clearness I realized that the purpose of my pilgrimage was not merely scientific observation, but also the need to effect some kind of mental and spiritual traffic with other worlds, for mutual enrichment and community. How should I ever be able to achieve this end unless I could find some means of communication? It was not until I had followed my companion to his home, and had spent many days in that little circular stone house with roof of mudded wicker, that I discovered the power of entering into his mind, of seeing through his eyes, sensing through all his sense organs, perceiving his world just as he perceived it, and following much of his thought and his emotional life. Not till very much later, when I had passively “inhabited” many individuals of the race, did I discover how to make my presence known, and even to converse inwardly with my host.

This kind of internal “telepathic” intercourse, which was to serve me in all my wanderings, was at first difficult, ineffective, and painful. But in time I came to be able to live through the experiences of my host with vividness and accuracy, while yet preserving my own individuality, my own critical intelligence, my own desires and fears. Only when the other had come to realize my presence within him could he, by a special act of volition, keep particular thoughts secret from me.

It can well be understood that at first I found these alien minds quite unintelligible. Their very sensations differed from my familiar sensations in important respects. Their thoughts and all their emotions and sentiments were strange to me. The traditional groundwork of these minds, their most familiar concepts, were derived from a strange history, and expressed in languages which to the terrestrial mind were subtly misleading.

I spent on the Other Earth many “other years,” wandering from mind to mind and country to country, but I did not gain any clear understanding of the psychology of the Other Men and the significance of their history till I had encountered one of their philosophers, an aging but still vigorous man whose eccentric and unpalatable views had prevented him from attaining eminence. Most of my hosts, when they became aware of ‘my presence within them, regarded me either as an evil spirit or as a divine messenger. The more sophisticated, however, assumed that I was a mere disease, a symptom of insanity in themselves. They therefore promptly applied to the local “Mental Sanitation Officer.” After I had spent, according to the local calendar, a year or so of bitter loneliness among minds who refused to treat me as a human being, I had the good fortune to come under the philosopher’s notice. One of my hosts, who complained of suffering from “voices,” and visions of “another world,” appealed to the old man for help. Bvalltu, for such approximately was the philosopher’s name, the “11” being pronounced more or less as in Welsh, Bvalltu effected a “cure” by merely inviting me to accept the hospitality of his own mind, where, he said, he would very gladly entertain me. It was with extravagant joy that I made contact at last with a being who recognized in me a human personality.