A Radical Corpuscle

by Charles Hoy Fort

A white corpuscle, of venerable and intellectual appearance, dug a claw into the lining of an artery and paused.

Past him surged millions of his fellows, all intent upon doing what they believed they had been sent into Man to do, which was to earn a living; tired mother leucocytes, staring out upon the day's work dragging small leucocytes after them; young leucocytes, with not a care in the world and never a thought for tomorrow; serious-looking leucocytes, weighed down with responsibilities.

Here and there were some whose individuality would attract attention--that old fellow with the prominent proboscis, forced along in the rush, as others were, but at the head of an association formed by him, so benevolent to himself that he got all the white meat, while the workers divided the pickings, of every disease germ captured. There had been battles with an invasion of diphtheria germs, skirmishes with germs of typhoid, small-pox, and scarlet fever. The leucocytes had overcome every enemy, and they were a triumphant, arrogant race.

The venerable corpuscle might have clung where he was, all day without interfering with traffic, were it not for a peculiarity of the corpuscles. A very hungry white corpuscle, coursing ravenously, noticed the venerable old gentleman and paused. Stronger than even hunger was his feeling that he should have to learn why the old gentleman was standing on a corner, instead of pouncing, grabbing, and struggling. Small leucocytes, with messages to deliver, paused and gaped; and, because they paused and gaped, such a crowd gathered that a burly corpuscle, with a stout club, came along, and growled:

"G'wan, now! Don't be blocking up this artery."

But the wise old corpuscle had provided himself with a permit.

He began: "Fellow leucocytes--"

"Hooray!" from irresponsible, small leucocytes.

"Fellow leucocytes, I look around and see among you some who may remember me. These may recall that a long time ago I withdrew from the activity and excitement of our affairs and may wonder where I have been. I have been secluded in the land of gray soil at the upper end of our world. In a remote convolution of this gray matter I have lived and have absorbed something of a strange spirit permeating it--the spirit of intelligence--and I have learned much from it. I feel that I have a mission among you. Let me start it abruptly with a question. Fellow leucocytes, do you know why we are placed here in this Man?"

"To get all we can out of it!" answered a sleek, shiny corpuscle.

The others laughed good-naturedly, agreeing that this was their sole reason for being.

"Out of it!" cried the wise old corpuscle. "Why not out of him? Then you don't believe that the Man we inhabit is a living creature? You think that because his life is not like our life, he has no life? And you think that, when you can feel the element of him that we inhabit, pulsate?"

"Oh, that's only the tide!"

"You have never heard his voice?"

"Nothing but thunder!"

"You think he never moves?"

"Nothing but a manquake, now and then."

"You doubt that he is kept alive by internal heat, just as we are? For, without heat, there could be no life."

A studious white corpuscle had become so interested that he permitted a plump pneumonia germ to pass him without pouncing upon it. He stepped forward and said, learnedly:

"Yes, there is internal heat in the world we inhabit, but we are taught that the Man was once a ball of fire and is now gradually cooling off. It is ridiculous to say it is alive like us. Look how fine and delicate is our flesh; see the Man made of course, rough substance forming banks along every river we navigate. Think of how tremendous its heat is, when it is great enough to keep these teeming millions of us from perishing! Could any living creature produce such heat? You say we can feel it move? It must move very infrequently then, for these manquakes are far apart. And you regard as a pulsating, the coming and going of the tide? Why, our hearts beat thousands of times in the span of one ebb and flow of the tide we are familiar with!"

Said the wise old corpuscle: "I say that not only is this Man alive, but that he, and millions like him, inhabit a world as vast to him as he is to us."

"Oh, let the old fellow rave!" laughed good-natured leucocytes.

But the financier-corpuscle, with the prominent proboscis, coming along with a germ under each arm, rolling half a dozen others in front of him, muttered, savagely:

"Another of those accursed agitators!"

"This wide Man of ours," pursued the cursed agitator, "is between five and six feet in length, according to his system of measuring. The world that he inhabits is twenty-five thousand miles in circumference. Telepathy has told me so; I have been able to interpret throbs of his intellect to mine. He calls his world Earth. I say that he is a white corpuscle to the Earth, as we are to him. He will not accept this belief. He argues as you do. Flesh that he lives upon is so gross that he calls it rock and soil; as rivers and brooks he looks upon arteries and veins. He knows of a tide and sees it pulsate. During one ebb and flow, his own heart beats thousands of times. He says the Moon causes the tide. Perhaps; then the Moon is the Earth's heart. He feels agitations similar to those we know as manquakes. They are very infrequent. He knows that there is heat in the Earth, but can not conceive that it is a source of life, because of its extreme degree. He has no sense of proportion. He can not conceive that a tremendous creature with an existence of ages must move, breathe, and throb in proportion to bulk and longevity, and be sustained by heat that would consume him."

"Too deep for me!" cried a group of young leucocytes. "Oh, he's some kind of fake! Start in advertising something, in a minute!" Each jumped on a red corpuscle and went sliding down hill.

But the studious white corpuscle again stepped forward.

"Friends," he said, "let us not deride this old person. Let us, rather, point out his astonishing errors to him. Be tolerant, I say! Be tolerant, by all means, even when we are opposed. Sir, we'll admit that there are many Men instead of only this one, and that all inhabit some vast creature that they call the Earth. But what for? We are here for pleasure, profit, and to store up germs."

"Are we? For a long time it has been my theory that we are here solely for the welfare of the Man we inhabit; that our food and our enemies are elements inimical to him; we remove them in his behalf."

"Vile agitator!" The financier-corpuscle, coursing around again, was so agitated that he nearly dropped a germ.

"Let him speak!" urged the studious corpuscle. "His views differ from mine, but I will be tolerant! I have arguments that will silence him soon. Now, then, my friend, if our reason for being is such as you describe, and you liken Men to us, these many men you speak of must occupy a relation to their Earth similar to ours to this Man. Do they pounce upon and destroy every organism malignant to their creature?"

"I have no doubt of it!" cried the old corpuscle. "I believe that, existing with those that are workers, are others, similar to them but idle or weak, or, at any rate, of no value to the Earth. I do not say that these worthless ones are pounced upon and eaten, but I do believe that in some way those of no value are forced out of existence; perhaps, besides weak and idle individuals, there are whole tribes who are being exterminated, unable to survive in the struggle with the fit."

"What industrious, unselfish beings these Men must be to do so much for their Earth!" sneered a doubter.

"Now, let him speak!" urged the tolerant philosopher. "I have arguments that will destroy his views, in a moment. Let there be freedom of speech, by all means!"

"Industrious and unselfish?" repeated the old corpuscle. "Are we? Industrious, yes; but unselfish, no! For our own existence we are working in this Man's behalf. We are not philanthropists. For the necessities of life we perform our appointed functions, most of us never dreaming that we are laboring in the interests of the Man we inhabit. So it is, I believe, with them! I can't imagine what their beneficent tasks are, but perhaps they till the soil, as we till the soil of this Man, keeping the Earth's system in good order, doing everything in the belief that they are working only for themselves."

"Pursue your analogy!" cried the rival philosopher. "If we populate a living creature, then the creature inhabited by Man must itself be a corpuscle floating in the system of something inconceivably vaster. We are leucocytes to Men; Men are to the Earth; then hordes of Earths are to a Universe? You speak of many Men. Are there hordes of Earths?"

"You have expressed a thought of my own! I believe that there are other creatures like the Earth. Perhaps they are faintly visible to the Earth. Perhaps they revolve and have orbits and course through a system just as we do."

"There," cried the old corpuscle's opponent. "I've got you! Be tolerant to him, my friends; I'll silence him in a moment. My friend, then these vast revolving creatures like the Earth are remote from one another? They float in nothingness, then? But you have called them corpuscles, or tiny parts of a whole. How can they be parts of a solid, when they are widely separated bodies floating in nothingness?"

"Take an object of any kind," was the answer. "Of what is it composed? You call it a solid, but I have lingered long enough in this Man's brain to catch glimmers of what he calls the atomic theory. This doctrine is, that all matter is composed of ultra-microscopic particles known as molecules. These molecules are not stationary; they revolve; they have orbits; in everything you think solid and dead, tiny specks of itself are floating and are never still. A myriad worlds like the Earth, are only molecules floating in ether, forming a solid, just as the molecules of any substance you are familiar with forma solid. Only comparatively are they far apart, as to a creature microscopic enough, the molecules of a bit of bone would seem far apart and not forming a solid, at all. To the molecules nearest to him he would give names, such as Neptune or Mars; like Men, he would call them planets; remoter molecules would be stars."

"Wretched nonsense!" cried the other philosopher-corpuscle. For he had no argument left. "Subversive of all modern thought! You ought to be locked up for promulgating your wild views! I'll be the first to hang you, if someone will bring a rope! You have it that all existence is a solid, then? That a myriad worlds like your fancied Earth are molecules to an ultimate creature? But there can, then, be no ultimate creature; he, in turn is but a microscopic part of-- Beware of him and don't listen to him, my friends!"

Suddenly a number of rough-looking corpuscles began to circulate through the crowd, paid in typhoid germs by the wrathful financier-corpuscle, who, standing farther down the artery, could not control his excitement, as he cried:

"Vile agitator! Already there is too much murmuring against my invested rights!"

"You tell us," shouted a rough-looking corpuscle, "that we, the conquering inhabitants of this Man, fresh from a war in which we were gloriously victorious, are placed in this Man only for his welfare?"

The crowd muttered indignantly.

"Fellow leucocytes," said the old philosopher, earnestly, "I do tell you that! Through our own selfish motives we do our best to benefit him, but each one of us for himself only, haphazard and without system. Then never mind what Man's relation to his Earth may be, and never mind what his Earth's relation to its Universe may be; let us think only of our relation to this Man. Let us have done with our grabbing and monopolizing, and study and find out just what is best for us to do in our appointed task of taking care of this Man. With that view, let us all work together and overcome that egotism that makes the thought of our own true humble sphere so repellant--"

But, excited by the defeated philosopher-corpuscle and the emissaries of the financier-corpuscle, the crowd had become a mob. Angrily it shouted:

"And he says that we, with our great warriors and leaders, our marvellous enterprises, our wondrous inventions, are only insignificant scavengers of this Man we inhabit? Down with him! Or, if we're too civilized to tear him apart, put him away where he belongs!"

And the fate of the wise old corpuscle would have been a fate common enough in the tragedies of philosophy, were it not that a few disciples hurried him away, seeking refuge in a tiny vein far from battle, struggle, and selfishness.

"He says we were made for the Man!" jeered the few leucocytes who gave the distasteful doctrine another thought. "But we know, and have every reason to know, that this Man was made for us!"

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