The Project Gutenberg eBook of Lost Art

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Title: Lost Art

Author: G. K. Hawk

Illustrator: Ed Emshwiller

Release date: March 29, 2019 [eBook #59150]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at




They lived by and for push
buttons and machines, and
knew nothing else. But Endicott
remembered about the
old, old days—when a man
could save a life without a

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of If Science Fiction, March 1955.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Stiff fingers of icy, wind-driven snow beat a tattoo on the hull of the cargo ship, filtered through the jagged tears in the metal skin, sifted down over the useless control board with its dead gauges and bank upon bank of pushbuttons. Amidship, a wind-thrashed branch screechingly scraped the reverberating hull, and the sound, like the rasp of sliding hatch covers, echoed through the ship.

Dazedly, Allison watched the sifting snow settle on the buttons, each one acquiring a grotesque, lop-sided, conical hat which grew as he stared. He reached forward an already stiffening finger and brushed one of the hats away, and almost idly watched another one form in its place.

"Come on, Allison, come on. Snap out of it." Endicott came out of the passageway into the control room, returned from his inspection of the machinery. "You hurt in the landing?"

Allison didn't answer. He shivered and pushed another inquisitive finger at the control board; the finger selected a certain button and pushed it steadily. There was no click of a hidden relay, no whir of little motors springing to life.

"You can punch that button or any of the others from now until—It won't do any good. We're dead." The plume of Endicott's frozen breath drifted over Allison's shoulder, merged with the sifting snow.

"Dead?" Allison echoed in a sleepwalker's voice. "Dead," he repeated and jabbed the button again and again.

"In a manner of speaking," Endicott's white-sandy brows drew together in a frown. "We're off the powercast—our receiver, I guess."

"No power." Allison was following better, was waking up. "That means—Can't you fix it, Chief?"

"Nope. I tried, but something in its guts is burned out. No power." Endicott beat his old blue-veined hands together.

Allison's frost-numbed fingers picked at the straps on his reclining geeseat, and he stepped to the light metal deck. He shivered and punched the button on the control board again. He was seized by a spasm of uncontrollable shaking. "No power means—no heat!" Panic crept into his voice.

Endicott said nothing but looked at the tier upon tier of buttons, functionless now.

Allison looked at the board, too, his narrow shoulders hunched. "They've never failed before," he muttered through chattering teeth.

"What?" Endicott seemed bemused.

"The buttons. Punch 'em, and you always get what you want—except now!"

"Now, now," Endicott said soothingly. "Panic isn't going to help us any. All we have to do is sit tight—and wait. They'll send a relief ship out—"


"In the morning. Morning, sure. They had us on the 'viewer, don't forget. They'll know exactly where to look."

"They won't be able to locate us in this white stuff."

"I tell you they know precisely where we are. And anyway the scanviewer will pick us up."

"I don't think they'll ever find us." Allison slumped down on his transverse geeseat, stared wide-eyed at the drift forming slowly inside the torn metal of the windward side of the control room. "This white stuff scares me." He shivered, then got up hastily, his boots slipping slightly on the snow-slick decking, and punched the button again. "It's got to work!" he cried and beat on the board with his fist.

"Stop that!" Endicott said sharply.

There was a crack of a slap in the control room, then silence.

In a moment Endicott said in his soothing voice, "Sorry, Allison. Everything'll be all right. Don't you worry."

"If you say so, Chief." Allison stood in the center of the control room, his arms slack by his sides.

"We'll be all right," Endicott said. "We have food capsules—"

"Sure, Chief."

"We'll be all right, except—" Endicott peered through the rents in the hull into the storm outside. "All we have to do is sit tight," he added hastily.

"We'll freeze tonight without heat." Allison's voice was still breathless with panic.

"Yeah. Yeah, I've been thinking about that. There's some thing 'way down deep in my mind—something I can't quite get—" Endicott still looked out at the storm-thrashed trees, a puzzled expression wrinkling his face. "Something from my childhood—I was born a long time before you, you know, before they set up state conditioning homes for children. Long before they set up this 'everything-from-buttons' business. Lived with my own people, I did, and I seem to remember—seem to remember—" The puzzled expression became a frown of concentration. "Or maybe it was something I read a long time ago," he mused.

"Did what?" Allison perked up.

"Read. You wouldn't know what that was. Everything comes from buttons now, entertainment, food, light, heat—everything.... No, it was from my childhood, I'm sure. I remember my people used to take me out in the country—" Endicott mused on while a cloak of snow grew on the shoulders of his jacket, and the light began to fade.

"Out in the country? What for? Nobody goes out there." Allison's eyes gleamed slightly in the growing dusk.

"—for picnics. And—" Endicott's eyes brightened, and one hand clenched.

"For what?" Allison's head thrust forward.

"What?" Endicott snapped, irritated at having his train of thought broken.

"What did your people take you in the country for?"

"A picnic.... Yes, yes, that's it! I remember now!" Endicott's words poured out.

"You know it is forbidden to think of the old days."

"Shut up! Let me think. You want heat, don't you?"

"It's forbidden to think of the old days," Allison repeated stubbornly. "You'll get heat when I report this—in a different way."

"Shut up! Look, you want to keep from freezing tonight?" Endicott glared. "All right. Come with me and do as I say." Without a backward glance Endicott crossed the slippery deck and entered the passageway. At the midship cargo natch he stopped.

"How are you going to open it without power?" Allison's breath-plume shot over Endicott's shoulder. "It's locked and unlocked by a button on the control board. Remember Chief?"

"Stop gloating, Allison. This is for your benefit as well as mine. There's an escape hatch in the control room."

"That's controlled by power, too."

"Yes, but in these older models the hatch also has a manual control, as I remember." Endicott moved off toward the control room.

Allison hesitated, then followed, and joined Endicott as he began to search the control board. Endicott found the emergency lever for the escape hatch and tugged on it, turning his head to watch the hatch in the side of the hull, back of his seat. The hatch, big enough for one man to pass through at a time, popped, crackling with frost, and stirred slightly.

"Now, Allison, my boy, let's put our shoulders to it." Endicott was in high spirits again.

As soon as the hatch swung open, Endicott put his head and shoulders through the opening, squinting his eyes against the icy snow which swirled past him. He grabbed a handhold on the outside of the hull and pulled his legs through, and dropped into the snow alongside the ship.

Allison's head and shoulders appeared in the opening, and in a moment he was beside Endicott. "Now what?" Allison yelled above the wind.

Endicott looked toward the clearing in which they had landed, then turned to face the trees around the disabled ship. He waded through the snow to the nearest one and reflectively took hold of a dry branch over his head, tugged it several times as though judging its resiliency, before snapping it off.

"Now, Allison, you see what I did? Well, you do the same, only gather an armload of branches. When you have them, bring them to me at the ship. And keep on gathering them until I tell you to stop."

Allison stood still in the deep snow, peering suspiciously at Endicott through the snow-swirl. "Is this something from the old—?"

"Never mind that now, Allison," Endicott said patiently. "Let's not worry about all that twaddle. You want to be warm, don't you? So, just do as I say."

Allison's eyebrows shot up and lowered instantly, and his face set in stubborn planes. "If this is from the old days I'm not sure I want any part of it." He looked furtively over his shoulders at the gloomy woods.

"There are no Conditioning Committees here, Allison," Endicott said testily. "Get on with it."

Allison took a few reluctant steps toward the nearest tree. Endicott started back to the ship with his branch, looking back over his shoulder.

"No, no, Allison. See those green needles? It won't do at all. Dry branches, Allison, dry branches." The whipping wind carried Endicott's words over the few yards.

"I can't see how these—branches?—are going to keep us warm. It seems like a lot of useless trouble getting them," Allison said sulkily, suspicion and fear unabated.

Endicott didn't answer. Instead, he went to the side of the ship away from the wind and began tramping the snow down into a flat, hard floor. He broke his branch into short lengths over his knee, then, in a nearly forgotten gesture, slapped at his uniform until he remembered that he had no pockets. For a moment he stood still, his eyes roving over the side of the ship until it came to one of the jagged tears. With a little self-congratulatory chuckle, he began scraping one of the lengths of wood over the torn metal, catching the splinters and shavings in the palm of one hand.

Allison dropped his armload of branches by the ship, waged an inner battle between fear of the unknown and curiosity in which curiosity won, and stood watching Endicott arrange the branches in a crib around the neatly piled shavings. Endicott, on one knee by the crib, worked steadily, laying the pieces of wood with care and a returning sense of sureness, with only brief pauses to flex his freezing fingers. Finally, with a smile of satisfaction on his face, Endicott got to his feet, and the nearly forgotten gesture at the pocketless uniform was repeated.

Slowly, Endicott's lined face altered. He looked hastily at the watchful Allison and hastily looked away; he looked at the completed crib, and his tongue licked his lips; he looked along the side of the damaged ship, and his eyes narrowed thoughtfully; finally, he looked into the swirl of the icy snow, and he shivered. His hands ceased their pawing, fell slowly, to hang slack by his sides. He was not smiling as he turned away.

"What were you looking for?" Allison asked curiously.

"I just remembered something else," said Endicott, his voice was very soft in the stillness, "we used to have something called a match to start those picnic fires."