The Day of the Dragon
By Guy Endor
1 of 10
No, in those days no one ever thought of such a peril to the existence of the human race. I was young then, but I recall the times distinctly. Scientists at their annual meetings used to discus the probability of the termination of the triumphant progress of the human race, but that it should come about in this fashion - this terrible and at the same time ridiculous fashion - that , no one ever imagined.
At the present writing it does seem that the complete extinction of all mankind will be delayed, for there must be quite a number of small communities that have found refuge in the mines and caves. And thought it is long since we have had any word from them, yet in the big cities such as Paris, Berlin and London, where there are impregnable subway systems, men and women can still hold out against the terror that ravages the open country. But how long can we last?
Few people, I suppose, are more capable than I of recapitulation the whole story from its completely insane inception of which I believe I was, and remain, the only living witness. I have heard lately so many different versions of how it all began that I want to say this: they are for the most part far from the truth. But it is a very human necessity to demand an explanation of some sort...
Well, as I say, in those days scientists used to imagine many perils to mankink. Some foresaw vast cataclysms; others predicted more subtle scourges. Very frequent was the prophecy that insects would succedd to the rule of the earth. I can still recall clearly a very stirring lecture deliveried by a great entomologist. He began by pointing out that through new species of insects were being discovered at the rate of ten thousand a year, and over half a million kinds were already listed, yet by virtue of the processes of evolution, he felt that the insects were increasing their species at a faster rate then they were being catalogued, certainly faster then their widely varying habits were capable of being studied. So that, in short, as far as insects were concerned, science was playing a losing hand.
He pictured vividly the hordes of insects that attacked our food crops in those days, the blights, the scales, the weevils, the fruit-flies and moths of all kinds. The listeners shivered as they heard tales of vast clouds of grasshoppers leaving whole countries bare, all growing things nibbled down to the last stalk; tales of permanent battle-lines of the entrenched farmer, the gardener, the orchard grower, fighting off with poisonous gases the perpetually renewed attacks of their inexhaustible insect enemies.
What, the lecturer queried, might happen in a moment of inattention? What, if my mischance some natural enemy of a given insect were to cease its alliance with man and allow this insect to breed in such multitude as to ruin crops all over the world? Imagine, the lecturer told us, months of famine during which whole races would perish and others lapse into savagery and cannibalism. Was that to be the end of our proud civilization? Our puny chemicals would soon be found ineffective against these armoured beasts, whose small size and vast numbers are so much in their favour.
'But,' so this lecturer affirmed, 'the peril form such disorganized swarms is small compared to the offered by those practically civilized insects, the ants, whose numerous varieties are already so high on the rungs of the ladder of progress. The ant cultivates plants, keeps domestic animals, has masons and bridge builders, law-makers and rulers, soldiers and captains. What if some napoleon of the ant-world were to arise and were to ally all the many species of ants into a great confederacy, the object of which would be the subjugation of the earth? What if ant-scientists were to discover some glandular extract that would cause them to grow to enormous size? Have not bees and many other insects already developed something analogous? What is to prevent them from doing this, then waxing big as rats, to move against mankind in order to enslave and domesticate it? What a comi-tragedy! Man ending his history in the stalls of vast pyramidal ant-hills - the ant's bond servant, his domestic animal!'
Curious, now it think of it, how man has come to a pass that is nearly, if not quite as ridiculous. I must say this lecturer had a pretty clear idea of what would happen, but how it was to come about - that was another matter. He had his guess, to which he was entitled. The guesses of others took other directions. I shan't dwell upon them at length. Now it was the sun that was to become exhausted, whereupon our planet would grow cold, the vast seas frozen to the very bottom and all life refrigerated to death in perfect cold-storage embalming. Again it was the earth that was to cease to revolve, leaving one-half of itself parched in perpetual high-noon sunshine, the other frozen in eternal midnight. Or else it was a comet that was to strike our earth and shatter it into millions inconsequential planetoids.
To such cataclysmic horrors other opposed more subtle dangers. Did not the statistics on insanity show that its rate of increase was such that it would not be long before the whole world would be a raving madhouse, in which such poor normal beings as might remain would have a far from enviable fate? Would not, so other students asked, the increasing use of fuel disturb the balance of the atmosphere? Would not the use of oil by motor-ships give rise to a scum of oil on the seas? In short, were we not about to blanket the earth and the waters and shut out he health-giving ultra-violet rays without which life is impossible?
Ah, but that we should be attacked and destroyed by a legendary animal - no that I never heard from the mouth of any of these scientists . Why, such an animal does not exist, that would have said. Ridiculous! A fabulous monster? Why, that's pure myth! Oh, good enough, I suppose, for fairytale writers and for artists with lively fancies. But we serious -
Well, it was out of such legends that it came about. That sounds strange and impossible, but it is true. Listen:
In the old days, in the golden era when mankind walked out carefree into the great light, where the laughing sun played on the pied fields, and the good breeze blew - I was then a reporter; and I well remember the time I was called upon to do a story on a life toad said to have been immured for a billion years in rock. That was the beginning of it.