For twenty years—for twenty long, horror filled, war laden years the Earth had not known peace.
Hovering over the metropolises of the world came long, lean battle projectiles, glinting silver in the sunlight or coming like gaunt mirages of grey out of the midnight sky to blast man's civilization from its cultural foundations. Man against man, ship against ship—a ceaseless and useless orgy of slaughter. Men, at their battle stations in the ships, pressed buttons, releasing radio bombs that blistered space and lifted whole cities up in shattered pieces and flung them down, grim ruins, reminders of man's ignorant hatreds and suspicions.
And gas—thick black clouds of it—billowing over the cities, seeking every possible egress, pushed forward by colossal Wind machines. But even when Victory came for the one side, often Nature, in one of her vengeful moments, would send the black gas flowing back to annihilate its senders.
Rays cut the air! Power bombs exploded incessantly! Evaporays robbed the Earth of its water—shot it up into the atmosphere and made of it a fog that condensed only after many months. And heat rays made deserts out of fertile terrain.
Rays that hypnotized caused even the strong minded to commit suicide or reveal military secrets. Rays that effected the optical nerves swept cities and left the population groping and blind, unable to find food.
It was a war that destroyed almost all of humanity. And why were they fighting? For pleasure and amusement!
In the middle of the twenty-second century, every nation had a standard defense. The weapons of war of each were equal—not in proportion to size, but actually, since man-power no longer counted high. Pacifism had done its best, but the World was armed to the hilt. And now—though illogically—it felt safe—for every nation meant the same as if all had nothing.
Another thing—there was no work to be done. Robots did it. And there seemed nothing left to discover, invent or enjoy. Art was at its perfection, poetry was mathematically correct and unutterably beautiful—worked out by the Esthetic machines. Sculptoring had been given the effect complete, artists hands guided by wonderful pieces of machinery. Huge museums were crammed with art put out synthetically.
And thus it was with the many Arts and their creators who grew stagnent in their perfection. And it was that way with the many sciences also…
Paleontologists had found, and articulated, and catalogued every fossil. The ancestor of the Eohippus, the little four-toed Dawn Horse, was discovered; the direct line between man and ape established in skeletal remains; the seat of life itself definitely proved Holarctica. And great bio-chemists, skilled in the science of vital processes, had created synthetic tissues and muscles and flesh, built upon the frames that had been recovered bodies with skillful modeling… even supplied them with blood and given them the spark of LIFE… so that Paleobotonists recreated the flora of a prehistoric era. Again the ponderous amphibious brontosaur pushed through marshes. Fish emerged upon the land, and the first bird archaeopteryx tried his imperfect wings for flight. In the regulated climates of long dead ages, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals lived again for the edification of those interested in the very ancient—or who were amused with queer animals.
But that was only paleontologically speaking. There were the heavens to be considered. They had been: the stars and planets weighed and measured, their composition noted, courses plotted with super-accuracy. Every feature had been mapped—every climactic condition recorded. Life had been named and numbered… then photographed. And these were but first considerations. Actually, what wasn't known about the Solar System had not occurred as yet. But that would probably be remedied by a machine to view the future.
There was physics, biology, anthropology, zoology, geology, bacteriology, botany—and 'ologies' and 'otonies' and 'onomies' such as ran into figures which only machines could calculate.
A book could indeed have been written of the accomplishments of super race. But this is of the WAR itself, and how it came about, and how it all ended.
Stated simply, in 2150 the point of DIMINISHING UTILITY had been reached. To the hungry man, the first course of dinner is wonderfully delicious, the second good, the third satisfying. Through the ages people have hungered after luxury and leisure—but when he finds his food, a lot of it, MAN finds suddenly that it no longer appeals to him. In fact, too much is bound to make him sick and often disagreeable. He looks around for something else. So did the people of the 22nd Century. They had all of the pleasurable amusements they wanted, but it was all so intellectual. Everything was culture. They had surfeited with it. And suddenly they wanted to forget it. All play and no work made MAN a discontented citizen. A reaction set in. Man was not completely civilized as yet——THE WAR!
Twenty-one years the war raged. And scarcely a million survived. Bit by bit this million was whittled down by the weapons of destruction to ragged handfuls of things that once had been cultured. Finally only one hundred humans remained alive—and they kept fighting blindly, none of them realizing how close to oblivion they were crowding themselves and the future of humanity—and they went on killing, killing, killing!
It is doubtless but what the entire human race would have vanished, leaving the world to the more competent, though half-ignorant, hands of the beasts, who fought and killed one another for self-preservation and for food—not because of madness… and who did not have books and talk and have culture. The human race would have gone, had it not been for the record.
The fighters of WAR'S END, leaving their machines and countries to congregate for personal combat, were engaging in hand-to-hand attacks in the ruins of what once had been a tall and powerful city in the Twentieth Century, but now lay crumbling, its proud buildings falling to the ground, sticking out iron-rusted skeletons to the sky—and the city was LOS ANGELES!
HEDRIK HUNSON was fighting with phosphorized fists—hand inclosed in chemically treated gloves that burned as they struck the antagonist, insulated on the interior for the wearer—when suddenly the two of them were caught by a spreader. The other man died instantly, but Hedrik got it in the side and was whirled about sickeningly, and survived.
He was lying painfully on something when he came to, but felt too dizzy and sick to move. At last, when his head had cleared a bit, he rolled over into a sitting position and reached out his arms to grasp—a phonograph!
Big things came in small packages in the days of 2171, and a portable phonograph might well be taken for a weapon of some sort—which was exactly what Hedrik thought! And you can hardly blame him, because no one in that generation had ever seen one of the things.
There was a curious story connected with the dying of music, concerning the days of 2050 when there was a movement to stamp out all symphonies and songs and things even slightly sentimental.
—but back to Hedrik!
Hedrik found the crank that wound the portable, turned it, reasoning that perhaps it gave power—and then—holding it away from him—he waited for rays to spurt out or something to explode. Nothing happened! Hedrik was disappointed. After an agony of perspiration and puzzlement he finally accidentally placed the needled arm onto the disk. The disk, he noticed, was black and filled with little undulations. The disk was like a wheel—so Hedrik thought—it should revolve like one, shouldn't it? He pushed the starter thoughtfully and was more than surprised when the disk started spinning.
From the phonograph came music—music and singing! The lost Art had returned! The Art banished under compulsion had made a comeback.
Some man was singing on the record—in a queerly interesting and familiar tongue, the ancient English. The singer seemed sad, almost crying. And Hedrik was thrilled as he played it over and over again, drinking in the new experience like wine on the lips of a connoisseur. The voice rose, fell, lingered. And Hedrik suddenly didn't feel like fighting anymore!
The music floated out over the tumbled ruins, descended to the ears of the other people. AND THE FIGHTING CEASED! They were transformed. They came running to crowd about the machine.
And there in that aged music shop they stood enthralled—music filled their souls. It was exactly what they had needed and wanted for many years. And it had been denied them. Music was the balancing force… the force that would help them struggle ahead rebuilding the world. And next time they would be saner… they knew… the lesson of luxury had been learned and learned well. Never again would they leave all of the work to the machines. Now they would work and sing and play.
It would be work… hard work… for some time to come. But they had found music again, and that would anchor them to sanity.
And thus was mankind saved through a record—SONNY BOY!
Written by Ray Bradbury & Forrest James Ackerman